United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States Magistrate Judge.
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. No. hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the
reasons set forth below, Mr. Murahari's motion for
attorney's fees is GRANTED in part.
21, 2017, this Court awarded Mr. Murahari $4, 400.00 for
23.25 hours worked on Plaintiff's case in federal court,
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF 20-7, 22.
Plaintiff subsequently received an Award Notice, in which he
was awarded $131, 212.00 in past due benefits. ECF 23-2. On
March 7, 2019, Mr. Murahari filed a Line in this Court,
seeking $32, 803.00 in attorney's fees. ECF 23. Mr.
Murahari has agreed to reimburse Plaintiff in the amount of
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 20-3. In his previous motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Murahari
submitted an itemized report documenting the 23.25 chargeable
hours he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's case.
ECF 20-7 (listing a total of 23.75 hours, 0.50 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 $1410.88 per hour. Mr. Murahari must
therefore show that an effective rate of $1410.88 per hour is
reasonable for the services he rendered. See
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
Mr. Murahari's typical hourly billing rate is $300, ECF
20-6 ¶ 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 is between four and
five times his hourly rate, and exceeds the typical rates
awarded by courts in the Fourth Circuit for attorney's
fees in successful Social Security appeals, even to attorneys
with more experience. See, e.g., Melvin v. Colvin,
No. 5:10-CV-160-FL, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92832 (E.D. N.C.
July 2, 2013) (approving contingency fee agreement with
effective hourly rate of $1, 043.92); Lehman v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-10-2160,
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186022 (D. Md. July 7, 2016) (approving
contingency fee agreement with effective hourly rate of $1,
028.14). Hourly rates exceeding $1, 000 are the exception,
not the rule. While this Court notes Mr. Murahari's
effective performance and the substantial past-due benefit
award to his client, his request for $32, 803.00 for 23.25
hours in this case would result in a windfall. Instead, this
Court finds that an award of $23, 250.00, amounting to an
effective hourly rate of $1000.00-more than triple the top
hourly rate for an attorney of Mr. Murahari's 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,
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 221544 (D. Md. Nov. 16, 2017)
(approving contingency fee agreement with effective 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 Mr.
Murahari's Line seeking attorney's fees, ECF 23. This
Court will award Mr. Murahari attorney's fees totaling
$23, 250.00. Mr. Murahari is directed to reimburse to
Plaintiff the fees he received pursuant to the EAJA.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
 The Commissioner calculates the total
fee requested as $28, 403.00, and the hourly rate as
$1221.63. ECF 24 at 2. While I believe the Commissioner's
calculations are erroneous, the end result would remain
unchanged, because I would reduce the fee award to the same
sum for the reasons stated above.
 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.
2018). Currently, Mr. Murahari has just short of eight (8)
years of experience, ECF 20-6, and the presumptively
reasonable hourly rate for attorneys admitted to the ...