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Lubberts v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 22, 2017

ERIC J. LUBBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

          MARIAN W. PAYSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Eric J. Lubberts (“Lubberts”) brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”). (Docket # 1). The Commissioner's decision denied Lubberts's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Id.). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 7). On March 16, 2016, this Court entered a judgment reversing the Commissioner's denial of DIB and remanding the case to the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four, for further administrative proceedings. (Docket # 15).

         Pending is Lubberts's motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (Docket ## 18, 23). Lubberts seeks fees based upon the expenditure of 55.95 hours, including the time spent on this motion. (Id.).[1] Although Lubberts's counsel states reimbursement for that time amounts, plus $425.38 in costs, amounts to $11, 258.07 (Docket # 23-2 at ¶ 2), he requests payment of a total of $10, 099.19 (id. at ¶ 3). The Commissioner opposes the motion, contending that the number of hours, 55.95, for which counsel seeks reimbursement is “excessive and unreasonable.” (Docket # 21).

         In addition, Lubberts also requests that the Commissioner make any EAJA award payable directly to his counsel, and that this Court impose a deadline for the Commissioner to determine whether Lubberts owes a federal debt that might offset his EAJA award. (Docket # 18-1 at 12).

         For the below reasons, Lubberts's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         The EAJA provides:

[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 (other than cases sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, 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). “Fees and other expenses” include “reasonable attorney fees, ” which “shall not be awarded in excess of $125 per hour unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys for the proceedings involved, justifies a higher fee.” See 28 U.S.C. at § 2412(d)(2)(A).

         Courts determine EAJA fees by “examining the amount of time expended on the litigation and the attorney's hourly rate, which is capped by statute.” James v. Colvin, 66 F.Supp.3d 365, 367 (W.D.N.Y. 2014). “The [c]ourt must determine if the hours expended and the rates charged are reasonable, and the fee applicant has the burden to establish the reasonableness of both.” Id. at 367. “The [c]ourt has broad discretion to determine what amount of time is ‘reasonably' expended.” Scott v. Astrue, 474 F.Supp.2d 465, 466 (W.D.N.Y. 2007).

         “[G]enerally, district courts in this Circuit have held that a routine Social Security case requires from twenty to forty hours of attorney time.” Id. at 466. “Where the facts of a specific case warrant it, however, courts do not hesitate to award fees in excess of forty hours.” Id. at 466 (collecting cases). “A larger award may be reasonable where a case is not routine because of the factual, substantive, and procedural complexity of the case; the size of the administrative record; and the efficacy of the attorney's efforts.” Forrest v. Colvin, 2016 WL 6892784, *3 (S.D.N.Y. 2016).

         II. Analysis

         Here, the Commissioner does not dispute that Lubberts was the “prevailing party” or contend “the position of the United States was substantially justified.” See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2412(d)(1)(A). Nor does the Commissioner challenge Lubberts's hourly rates, which are set at the statutory cap and increased based on the cost of living. (Docket ## 21 at 10 n.7; ...


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