United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
CHAMBERS OF STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
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 29. In response, the
Commissioner asked this Court to consider whether Mr.
Murahari's requested amount constitutes a reasonable fee.
ECF 30. 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.
Court has awarded Mr. Murahari a total of $11, 100.00 for a
total of 62.90 hours worked on Plaintiff's two cases in
federal court, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. No.
1:14-cv-1614, ECF 39 (awarding $5, 900 for 35.50 hours
worked); No. 1:17-cv-1292, ECF 25 (awarding $5, 200.00 for
27.40 hours worked). Plaintiff subsequently received an Award
Notice, in which she was awarded $216, 405.00 in past due
benefits. ECF 29-1. On August 8, 2019, Mr. Murahari filed a
Motion in this Court, seeking $54, 101.25 in attorney's
fees (inclusive of $6, 000 for work performed at the
administrative level). ECF 29. 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 she
might become entitled. ECF 22-5. In his previous motions for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Murahari
submitted itemized reports documenting 62.90 chargeable hours
he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's two cases.
See No. 1:14-cv-1614, ECF 37-7 (listing a total of
38.00 hours, 2.50 of which were spent on clerical and
administrative tasks marked “NO CHARGE”); No.
1:17-cv-1292, ECF 22-7 (listing a total of 28.05 hours, 0.65
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 $764.73 per hour.
Mr. Murahari must therefore show that an effective rate of
$764.73 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. Courts in the Fourth Circuit have
approved contingency fee agreements that produce much higher
hourly rates 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). This Court has routinely approved
a higher hourly rate for Mr. Murahari. See Arvie W. v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. SAG-17-1148, 2019 WL
3975187 (D. Md. Aug. 22, 2019); Barbara F. v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., No. SAG-17-2090, 2019 WL 3340738 (D.
Md. July 25, 2019); Kimberly B v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. SAG-16-2519, 2019 WL 1559426 (D. Md. Apr.
10, 2019). Thus, the requested fee in this case is reasonable
and should be approved.
reasons set forth herein, this Court GRANTS Mr.
Murahari's Motion seeking attorney's fees, ECF 29.
This Court will award Mr. Murahari attorney's fees
totaling $48, 101.26. 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 ...