United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Hubert A. has filed a petition for attorney's fees
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C § 2412, in the amount of
$7, 920.00. ECF 22. Because Plaintiff did not consent to a
magistrate judge for all proceedings, his request for
attorney's fees has been referred to me, pursuant to
Standing Order 2014-01, for review and to make
recommendations under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local
Rule 301.5(b)(ix). The Commissioner stipulated and agreed
with Plaintiff's counsel to make a payment in the amount
of $6, 400.00 to resolve the fee request. ECF 23. However,
because a Report and Recommendations is just that, a
recommendation subject to the District Court's review, I
have comprehensively reviewed all of the supporting documents
underlying Plaintiff's fee request herein. For the
reasons set forth below, I recommend Plaintiff's Petition
for Attorney's Fees be GRANTED in part and DENIED in
part, and that fees be awarded in the amount of $6, 000.00.
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on
December 6, 2016. ECF 13 at Tr. 176-81. Subsequent to a
denial of benefits through the administrative appeals
process, on November 7, 2018, Plaintiff petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's decision
to deny his claim. ECF 1. After Plaintiff's case was
fully briefed, including filing of a motion for summary
judgment and a reply from Plaintiff's attorney, David F.
Chermol, Esq., ECF 16, 19, this Court granted Plaintiff's
motion and remanded his claim to the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) under Sentence Four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), ECF 20, 21.
27, 2019, Plaintiff timely filed the instant motion for
attorney's fees for Mr. Chermol under the EAJA. ECF 22.
Mr. Chermol sought $7, 920.00 for 40 hours of work at the
EAJA rate of $198 per hour, id., although, as noted
above, he subsequently agreed with the SSA to accept a fee of
$6, 400.00, ECF 23.
the EAJA, prevailing parties in civil actions brought by or
against the United States are entitled to an award of
attorney's fees and expenses unless the court finds the
position of the government was substantially justified or
that special circumstances make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(A); Crawford v. Sullivan, 935 F.2d
655, 656 (4th Cir. 1991). To receive attorney's fees, the
prevailing party must submit a fee application and an
itemized statement of fees to the court within thirty days of
final judgment. Id.
the district court determines that plaintiffs have met the
threshold conditions for an award of fees and costs under the
EAJA, the district court must undertake the “task of
determining what fee is reasonable.” Hyatt v.
Barnhart, 315 F.3d 239, 253 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting
INS v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 161 (1990)). Counsel
“should submit evidence supporting the hours worked,
” and exercise “billing judgment” with
respect to hours worked. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983). “Hours that are not properly
billed to one's client also are not properly
billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory
authority.” Id. at 434 (quoting Copeland
v. Marshall, 205 U.S.App.D.C. 390, 401 (1980) (emphasis
in original)). Further, the district court is accorded
“substantial discretion in fixing the amount of an EAJA
award, ” but is charged with the duty to ensure that
the final award is reasonable. Hyatt, 315 F.3d at
254 (quoting Jean, 496 U.S. at 163).
Chermol's accounting of hours billed for work before this
Court in Plaintiff's case totals 57.7 hours. He agreed to
seek compensation for only 40 of those hours “in an act
of billing discretion, ” ECF 22-1 at 3, likely because
his bill included some clerical tasks which “are not
compensable as attorney's fees.'” Gates v.
Barnhart, 325 F.Supp.2d 1342, 1348 (M.D. Fla. 2002)
(quoting Mobley v. Apfel, 104 F.Supp.2d 1357, 1360
(M.D. Fla. 2000)) (denying compensation for mailing a
complaint and summons); see also Magwood v. Astrue,
594 F.Supp.2d 557, 563 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (finding that clerical
tasks should be excluded from the total attorney fee under
the EAJA); Chapman v. Astrue, 2:08CV00040, 2009 WL
3764009 (W.D. Va. Nov. 9, 2009) (finding “purely
clerical tasks are ordinarily a part of a law office's
overhead and should not be compensated for at all”).
that Mr. Chermol's documentation of the tasks he
completed is done in block form, lumping several tasks into
single time entries. ECF 22-1 at 2-3. A fee applicant has the
burden of proving the reasonableness of hours for which
compensation is requested by submitting to the court
contemporaneous time records that show how the requested
hours were allotted to specific tasks. CoStar Grp., Inc.
v. LoopNet, Inc., 106 F.Supp.2d 780, 788 (D. Md. 2000).
This Court would be within its discretion to reduce the fee
award as a result of the improper billing entries. See
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)
(“Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, [a]
court may reduce the award accordingly”); Project
Vote/Voting for Am., Inc. v. Long, 887 F.Supp.2d 704,
716-17 (E.D. Va. 2012) (reducing a total fee award by ten
percent where attorneys provided vague and incomplete
information and “block billed” or lumped several
tasks under a single entry).
that, with the reduction already negotiated by the SSA, at
the proposed rate of $198.00 per hour, Mr. Chermol is
receiving compensation for just over 32 of his 57.7 billed
hours. Nonetheless, the total requested award of $6, 400.00
puts this case well above the recent attorney fees awarded by
this Court for successful Social Security appeals in the same
procedural posture. See Valois v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. SAG-18-3784 (awarding $1, 687.50 on August
23, 2019); Franklin v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin.,
No. SAG-18-3191 (awarding $1, 260.00 on August 21, 2019);
Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
SAG-18-1320 (awarding $1, 975.00 on August 19, 2019);
Hunsucker v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
15-3072-SAG (awarding $1, 900.00 on August 19, 2019);
Powers-French v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
18-1850-SAG (awarding $1, 765.73 on August 19, 2019);
Tarver v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
18-2416-SAG (awarding $5, 400.00 on August 19, 2019);
Acosta v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
18-2015-SAG (awarding $1, 720.00 on August 19, 2019);
Smith v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
18-2083-SAG (awarding $4, 317.60 on August 20, 2019). In
contrast, the case law cited by Mr. Chermol in support of the
reasonableness of his fee petition are from other
jurisdictions (not in this Court or in the Fourth Circuit),
and are mostly more than a decade old, some even predating
the widespread availability of online legal research tools
such as Lexis and Westlaw. See ECF 22 at 2-3. In
light of the block billing entries in this case, reducing
this Court's ability to review Mr. Chermol's proposed
hours for reasonableness, and the discrepancy between the
fees sought in this case and the EAJA fees recently awarded
by this Court in similarly situated matters, I recommend
reducing the proposed award to $6, 000.00, to bring the award
closer to (though still significantly higher than) the
heartland of fee awards in like cases.
on the foregoing, I recommend that the Court GRANT in part
and DENY in part Plaintiff's Petition for Attorney's
Fees. Any objections to this Report and Recommendations must
be served and filed within fourteen (14) days, pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2) and Local Rule 301.5.b.