United States District Court, D. Maryland
Kevin Lynn P.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
K. Murahari, Esq. has filed a motion for attorney's fees
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42
U.S.C. § 406(b), in conjunction with his representation
of Plaintiff before this Court. (ECF 23). In response, the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) asked this
Court to consider whether Mr. Murahari's requested amount
constitutes a reasonable fee. (ECF 24). Mr. Murahari did not
file a reply. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R.
105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below, Mr.
Murahari's motion for attorney's fees is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART.
November 22, 2016, this Court awarded Mr. Murahari $4, 748.59
for 24.50 hours worked on Plaintiff's case in federal
court, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (ECF 20, 22).
Plaintiff subsequently received an Award Notice, in which he
was awarded $197, 770.00 in past due benefits. (ECF 23-2).
The SSA withheld twenty-five percent of Plaintiff's past
due benefits, amounting to $49, 442.50. Id. at 3-4.
On October 4, 2018, Mr. Murahari filed a Line in this Court,
seeking $49, 442.50 in attorney's fees. (ECF 23). Mr.
Murahari has agreed to reimburse Plaintiff the $4, 748.59 in
fees previously received. Id.; see Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002); Stephens ex rel.
R.E. v. Astrue, 565 F.3d 131, 135 (4th Cir. 2009).
authorizes a reasonable fee for successful representation
before this Court, not to exceed twenty-five percent of a
claimant's total past-due benefits. 42 U.S.C. §
406(b). Although contingent fee agreements are the
“primary means by which fees are set” in Social
Security cases, a court must nevertheless perform an
“independent check, to assure that they yield
reasonable results in particular cases.”
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807. In determining whether a
request for attorney's fees under section 406(b) is
reasonable, the Supreme Court has explained that a reviewing
court may properly consider the “character of the
representation and the results the representative
achieved.” Id. at 808. Importantly, the
Supreme Court acknowledged that a contingent fee agreement
would not result in a reasonable fee if the fee constituted a
“windfall” to the attorney. Id. (quoting
Rodriquez v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 739, 746-47 (6th Cir.
1989). Courts may require the attorney to provide a record of
hours spent working on the case and the attorney's
typical hourly billing charge. Id.
Mr. Murahari and Plaintiff entered into a contingent fee
agreement, by which Plaintiff agreed to pay Mr. Murahari
twenty-five percent of all retroactive benefits to which he
might become entitled. (ECF 23-3). In his previous motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Murahari
submitted an itemized report documenting the 24.50 chargeable
hours he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's case.
(ECF 20-7) (listing a total of 26.30 hours, 1.80 of which
were spent on clerical and administrative tasks marked
“NO CHARGE”). If Mr. Murahari receives the full
amount of fees he requests, his fee for representation before
this Court will effectively total $2, 018.06 per hour. Mr.
Murahari must therefore show that an effective rate of $2,
018.06 per hour is reasonable for the services he rendered.
See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
Mr. Murahari's requested fee is more than six times his
typical hourly billing rate of $300, (ECF 20-6), which,
coincidentally, is also top hourly rate that is presumptively
reasonable for attorneys of his experience level pursuant to
the fee guidelines appended to the Local Rules of this
Court. Although it is customary in Social
Security cases for courts to approve significantly higher
rates, Mr. Murahari's requested rate exceeds the typical
rate awarded by courts in the Fourth Circuit for
attorney's fees in successful Social Security appeals.
See, e.g., Melvin v. Colvin, No.
5:10-CV-160-FL, 2013 WL 3340490 (E.D. N.C. July 2, 2013)
(approving contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of $1,
043.92); Claypool v. Barnhart, 294 F.Supp.2d 829,
833 (S.D. W.Va. 2003) (approving contingency fee agreement
with hourly rate of $1, 433.12); Lehman v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-10-2160 (D. Md. July 7,
2016) (unpublished) (approving contingency fee agreement with
hourly rate of $1, 028.14). While this Court notes Mr.
Murahari's effective performance and the substantial
past-due benefit award to his client, Mr. Murahari's
request for $49, 442.50 for 24.50 hours in this case would
result in a windfall. Instead, this Court finds that an award
of $24, 500.00, amounting to an hourly rate of $1,
000.00-more than triple the top hourly rate for an attorney
of his experience, would adequately compensate Mr. Murahari
for the time that he spent on this case in this Court.
See Hunter v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil
No. SAG-15-3758 (D. Md. Nov. 16, 2017) (unpublished)
(approving contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of $1,
140.41, while noting that the requested rate was
“slightly more than triple the top hourly rate”
for an attorney with eleven years of experience).
reasons set forth herein, this Court GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART Mr. Murahari's Line seeking attorney's
fees, (ECF No. 23). This Court will award Mr. Murahari
attorney's fees totaling $24, 500.00. Mr. Murahari is
directed to reimburse to Plaintiff the $4, 748.59 in fees he
received pursuant to the EAJA.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
 Currently, the position of
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is vacant,
and most duties are fulfilled by Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy
Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and
functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social
 Although they do not govern Social
Security cases, the Local Rules prescribe guidelines for
determining attorney's fees in certain cases, which are
instructive in evaluating the reasonableness of the effective
hourly rate in this case. See Loc. R. App. B (D. Md.
2016). Currently, Mr. Murahari has seven (7) years of
experience and the presumptively reasonable hourly rate for