United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jason Szefler (“plaintiff”) brought an action
following the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of
his application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to
the Social Security Act (the “SSA”).
Plaintiff's attorney, Kenneth Hiller, Esq., has filed a
motion pursuant to the Equal Access To Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412 requesting
attorney's fees in the amount of $8, 764.84, which
represents 46 hours of work in connection with his firm's
successful representation on behalf of plaintiff.
application for disability insurance benefits was filed on
July 21, 2010 and was initially denied. Following the denial
of benefits, plaintiff was granted a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who later
issued a written decision denying benefits. The ALJ's
decision became final on August 30, 2013, when the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff
filed the present action seeking judicial review of the
ALJ's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
which resulted in the Court remanding the case for further
administrative proceedings on September 30, 2015. In doing
so, the Court relied upon and adopted the Report and
Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States
Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.
Commissioner opposes plaintiff's petition and asks the
Court to reduce the award, contending that the
Commissioner's position in this action was
“substantially justified.” (Docket No. 21, p.1).
The Commissioner further asserts that the number of hours
requested by plaintiff's counsel is excessive for a
“routine Social Security matter.” Plaintiff
responds that the Commissioner's defense of the action
was not substantially justified due to the failure of the ALJ
to include plaintiff's limitations in maintaining
attention in his determination of plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). Plaintiff further
asserts that district courts have not hesitated to award fees
in excess of 40 hours for a Social Security case, if
warranted. For the reasons set forth below, this Court grants
plaintiff's motion for EAJA fees.
EAJA provides in relevant part that:
Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court
shall award to a prevailing party other than the United
States fees and other expenses, . . . incurred by that party
in any civil action . . . brought by or against the United
States . . . unless the court finds that the position of the
United States was substantially justified or that special
circumstances make an award unjust.
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). There is no dispute that
plaintiff is the prevailing party for purposes of the EAJA.
The Commissioner asserts, however, that her position was
substantially justified and the hours requested by counsel
Judge Scott found that the ALJ's RFC determination that
plaintiff could perform complex and detailed tasks was not
supported by substantial evidence in the record and
constituted clear error. Consequently, the Court now finds
that the Commissioner was not substantially justified in
defending the ALJ's RFC determination that plaintiff
could “occasionally understand, remember and carry out
complex and detailed tasks” where the record evidence
clearly establishes that plaintiff was capable of performing
no more than simple tasks. ALJ's decision, p. 5. The
R&R also concluded that remand was also required because
the hypothetical question posed to the VE failed to include
any limitation regarding plaintiff's concentration,
persistence and pace.
respect to the reasonableness of the requested fee award, the
Commissioner contends that the work hours submitted by
plaintiff's attorney are excessive, citing the general
proposition that 20 to 40 hours of work is appropriate on a
routine Social Security case. See Barbour v. Colvin,
993 F.Supp.2d 284, 290 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (“District
courts in this Circuit generally hold that twenty to forty
hours is a reasonable expenditure of counsel time for routine
social security cases.”). The Commissioner does not
argue that the hourly rate requested is unreasonable but
asserts that the fees requested should be reduced to reflect
33 hours of work.
Court has broad discretion to determine whether the amount of
time expended and the rates charged by plaintiff's
attorney are reasonable, and the Court is not required to
“scrutinize each action taken or the time spent on
it” when determining what is reasonable. Aston v.
Sec'y. of Health and Human Serv., 808 F.2d 9, 11 (2d
Cir. 1986); see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 433 (1983).
Hiller submitted a sworn declaration establishing the time
spent on his representation of plaintiff. Mr. Hiller contends
that the time expended on plaintiff's case was
reasonable, considering the relative complexity of the issues
presented and the fact that plaintiff filed an initial motion
for judgment on the pleadings and a reply memorandum of law,
reviewed the ...