United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
Richard L. Voorhees United States District Judge
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's Motion
for Attorney's Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”) (the “Motion”). (Doc. 18).
For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 18)
is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN
EAJA allows fee reimbursement to a prevailing party only for
“reasonable fees and expenses.” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(b). Under the EAJA, “the district court must
undertake the ‘task of determining what fee is
reasonable'” in light of the circumstances
surrounding the particular case. Hyatt v. Barnhart,
315 F.3d 239, 253 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting INS v.
Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 161 (1990)). A district court is
given “‘substantial discretion in fixing the
amount of an EAJA award'” and may grant
applications for awards only if the request is reasonable.
Id. at 254 (quoting Jean, 496 U.S. at 163).
“The fee petitioner bears the burden of justifying a
requested fee.” Meade v. Barnhart, 218
F.Supp.2d 811, 813 (W.D. Va. 2002) (citing Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)).
Motion represents that the parties have agreed to a total of
$4, 500.00 in attorney's fees. (Doc. 18 at 1; see
also Doc. 19). Plaintiff's counsel asserts she spent
30.1 hours working at an hourly rate of
$149.50. The Court takes notice of its independent
responsibility to review the hour log submitted by
Plaintiff's counsel and determine whether the time spent
on each itemized task and Plaintiff's counsel's
hourly rate amount to a reasonable fee. See 28
U.S.C. § 2412(b), (d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 406(b);
see also Green v. Astrue, 2012 WL 1232300, at *2
(E.D. Cal. Apr. 12, 2012) (magistrate judge's finding and
recommendation independently reviewing fee request for
reasonableness in social security proceeding and reducing fee
request even though Commissioner did not oppose motion for
fees) (adopted by Green v. Astrue, 2012 WL 1663868
(E.D. Cal. May 11, 2012)).
Court determines the hourly rate requested is reasonable.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A) (setting hourly
rate at $125 but permitting court to increase hourly rate
based on cost of living or other special factors). The same,
however, cannot be said for all of the itemized hours'
worked. In reviewing Plaintiff's counsel's itemized
list of hours, this Court harkens back to its earlier
assessment regarding deficiencies in Plaintiff's
memorandum in support of summary judgment. See Booker v.
Berryhill, 2017 WL 2676497, at *3 n.1 (W.D. N.C. June
21, 2017). Counsel for Plaintiff represents that she spent
over 16.1 total hours drafting the memorandum in support of
summary judgment. (See Doc 18 at 3). The memorandum
in support of summary judgment spanned nine pages, raised two
interrelated issues regarding the administrative law
judge's residual functional capacity assessment as to
Plaintiff's ability to stand and walk, and very generally
cited three cases in the argument section of the memorandum.
(See Doc. 11-1).
determining the reasonable amount of time for drafting the
memorandum in support of summary judgment, this Court has
considered the relative simplicity of the memorandum in this
case relative to memoranda in support of summary judgment in
other cases, as well as counsel's alleged work hours
drafting the memorandum and her requested fee in this case
compared to the hours drafting memoranda in other social
security cases and the requested fees in other social
security cases. The Court has also reviewed Plaintiff's
counsel's hour logs in other social security cases before
the Western District of North Carolina and has compared the
hours alleged in those cases with the length and complexity
of the briefs in Plaintiff's counsel's other cases.
Notably, this later inquiry revealed that counsel typically
spends just over one hour drafting each page, even in
instances where a case involved multiple distinct issues.
See e.g. Brown v. Berryhill, 3:16-cv-00706-MH-DLR
(ten hours of work time to draft eleven page brief raising
two distinct issues); Andrews v. Colvin,
3:15-cv-00274-MR (approximately nine hours of work time to
draft seven page brief raising two related issues);
Williams v. Colvin, 3:14-cv-00219-GCM (approximately
8.5 hours of work time to draft six page brief raising two
distinct issues). Given the simplicity of the related issues
in this case and the general lack of citation to case law in
the memorandum in Plaintiff's case, this Court concludes
that the listed 16.1 hours for drafting Plaintiff's
memorandum in support of summary judgment, contributing to a
total requested fee of $4, 500.00, is unreasonable. This
Court further concludes that nine hours, one hour of drafting
time per page, is the maximum, reasonable allowable time for
the drafting of the memorandum in support of summary
judgment. Therefore, this Court reduces counsel's
requested 30.1 hours to 23 hours.At an approved hourly rate of
$149.50, Plaintiff's compensable attorney fee comes to
to the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Astrue
v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586 (2010), attorney's fees are
payable to Plaintiff as the prevailing party, subject to
offset through the Treasury Department's Offset Program
to satisfy any pre-existing debt Plaintiff might owe to the
federal government. Following the entry of this order, if the
Commissioner determines Plaintiff owes no debt to the federal
government which must offset, the Commissioner may honor
Plaintiff s June 2017 signed assignment of EAJA fees, thus
permitting payment of such EAJA fees to Plaintiffs counsel,
rather than to the Plaintiff herself. (Doc. 18 at 4).
However, if Plaintiff is found to owe any offsetting debt to
the federal government, the Commissioner shall pay any
remaining attorney's fees to Plaintiffs counsel in
accordance with the above agreement.
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED THAT
Plaintiff s Motion for Attorney Fees under the Equal Access
to Justice Act (Doc. 14) is GRANTED IN PART
and DENIED IN PART;
Commissioner shall pay to Plaintiff reasonable attorney's
fees in the amount of $3, 438.50, subject to any offsets.
 Plaintiff's motion does not
explicitly specify counsel's requested hourly rate but
dividing counsel's requested fee by counsel's hours
worked produces an hourly rate of $149.50.
 The Court acknowledges that counsel
for Plaintiff, in response to this Court's earlier
assessment about the memorandum in support of summary
judgment, has not sought the rate approved by this Court in
other cases. While this was an appropriate concession by
counsel for Plaintiff, absent the concession, the Court would