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 26. In response, the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) asked this
Court to consider whether Mr. Murahari's requested amount
constitutes a reasonable fee. ECF 27. 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.
2, 2018, this Court awarded Mr. Murahari $3, 700.00 for 18.5
hours worked on Plaintiff's case in federal court,
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF 22-7, 25.
Plaintiff subsequently received an Award Notice, in which she
was awarded $88, 653.00 in past due benefits. ECF 26-2. On
July 17, 2019, Mr. Murahari filed a Line in this Court,
seeking $22, 163.25 in attorney's fees. ECF 26. 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 22-3. In his previous motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Murahari
submitted an itemized report documenting the 18.5 chargeable
hours he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's case.
ECF 22-7 (listing a total of 19.75 hours, 1.25 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 $1198.01 per hour. Mr. Murahari
must therefore show that an effective rate of $1198.01 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
22-6 ¶ 6, which, coincidentally, is also the 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 almost four 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 $22, 163.25 for 18.5 hours in this
case would result in a windfall. Instead, this Court finds
that an award of $18, 500.00, 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 26. This
Court will award Mr. Murahari attorney's fees totaling
$18, 500.00. 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.
 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 over eight (8) years
of experience, ECF 22-6, and the presumptively reasonable
hourly rate for attorneys admitted to the bar ...