United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
FRANK P. GERACI, JR. CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
September 28, 2016, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings and remanded this case to the
Commissioner of Social Security for further administrative
proceedings. ECF No. 14. On September 29, 2016, the Clerk of
Court entered Judgment in Plaintiff's favor. ECF No. 15.
On December 28, 2016, Plaintiff applied for $7, 614.77 in
attorney fees for 39.3 hours of work pursuant to the Equal
Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412
(“EAJA”). ECF No. 16. The Commissioner opposes
Plaintiff's motion and argues that the hours expended on
this case are “excessive and unreasonable.” ECF
No. 26 at 2. Specifically, the Commissioner asserts that the
Court should reduce counsel's request for fees to between
20 and 30 hours because this case was routine and
“counsel has extensive experience in practicing Social
Security disability law.” Id. For the reasons
that follow, the Court finds that Plaintiff's attorney
fee application accords with the EAJA and that the hours
Plaintiff's counsel expended are reasonable. Accordingly,
Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED and counsel is
awarded $7, 614.77 in attorney fees.
to the EAJA, a prevailing party in a Social Security benefits
case may be awarded attorney fees payable by the United
States if the Government's position in the litigation was
not “substantially justified.” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A). EAJA fees are determined by examining the
amount of time expended on the litigation and the
attorney's hourly rate, which is capped by statute.
See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002);
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). “The Court must
determine if the hours expended and the rates charged are
reasonable, ” Ballard v. Astrue, 485 F.Supp.2d
290, 291 (W.D.N.Y. 2007) (citations omitted), and the Court
has broad discretion to determine what amount of time is
“reasonably” expended, Aston v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 808 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir.
1986). It is the fee applicant's burden to establish
“to the court's satisfaction the reasonableness of
the hours expended and rates charged.” Pavia v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 5:10-CV-0818 GTS/DEP, 2013
WL 5652497, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 15, 2013).
the sole issue is whether the fee sought is
“reasonable.” ECF No. 26 at 5-10. Specifically,
the Commissioner asserts that the 39.3 hours Plaintiff's
counsel expended to handle this case is “excessive and
unreasonable.” ECF No. 26 at 5-10. However, as the
Commissioner herself points out, district courts in the
Second Circuit “generally hold that twenty to forty
hours is a reasonable expenditure of counsel time for routine
social security cases.” Barbour v. Colvin, 993
F.Supp.2d 284, 290 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (collecting cases).
the Commissioner argues that the Court should reduce
counsel's hours because this case was straightforward and
had a relatively short administrative transcript (ECF No. 26
at 5-7), Plaintiff's Motion for Judgement on the
Pleadings (ECF No. 27) was 26 pages long and thoroughly
recited the facts and discussed the legal arguments.
Moreover, a less experienced attorney prepared the brief (ECF
No. 27 at 2 n.2), despite the Commissioner's assertion
that a reduction of hours is appropriate based on
counsel's high level of expertise. The Court agrees with
Plaintiff that it was reasonable to bill 23 hours-less than
one hour per page of the submitted motion-to review the
transcript, conduct legal research, and draft the motion.
Commissioner also disputes the hours counsel spent preparing
for and traveling to and from oral argument. ECF No. 26 at
8-9. The Commissioner asserts that four hours to prepare for
oral argument “is excessive given the characteristics
of this case and the experience of Plaintiff's
counsel” and that the three and one-half hours spent
traveling to and from and attending the hearing is
unreasonable. Id. The Court agrees with Plaintiff
that four hours is a reasonable amount of time to spend
preparing for oral argument, which requires counsel to travel
from Buffalo to Rochester and be prepared to discuss all
aspects of the case and answer any questions the Court may
have. Additionally, counsel's travel time is reimbursable
under the EAJA as “fees and other expenses”
because the round trip was required for a court proceeding
and not another purpose. See Aston v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 808 F.2d 9, 12 (2d Cir. 1986)
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A)); Damian v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., No. CIV-88-875E,
1991 WL 99065, at *1 n.1 (W.D.N.Y. May 27, 1991).
Commissioner also objects to the combined one hour that
counsel charged for administrative and clerical tasks.
Although district courts sometimes reduce fee awards by
excluding “routine clerical matters not requiring any
legal expertise, ” see, e.g., James v.
Colvin, 66 F.Supp.3d 365, 367 (W.D.N.Y. 2014), the Court
finds that the one hour expended on this case is reasonable.
Motion for Attorney Fees (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED and counsel
is awarded $7, 614.77 in attorney fees. The Commissioner
shall promptly pay this sum to Plaintiffs counsel.