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Oates v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 19, 2018

STACY NELSON OATES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          David C. Keesler United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's “Second Motion For Attorney's Fees Pursuant To The Equal Access To Justice Act, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2412” (Document No. 31) filed November 22, 2017. The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and this motion is ripe for review. Having carefully considered the motion and the record, the undersigned will grant the motion with modification.

         Plaintiff's first “Motion For Attorney's Fees Pursuant To The Equal Access To Justice Act, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2412” (Document No. 22) was denied without prejudice on January 4, 2018. In the “Order” (Document No. 29) denying the first motion, the undersigned noted that

Unfortunately, the record of this case and Plaintiff's counsel's exhibits suggest a continuing failure by Plaintiff's counsel to follow the orders of this Court and the Local Rules. As such, the undersigned is reluctant to award attorney's fees at this time. The undersigned notes that pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (d)(1)(D) “[t]he court, in its discretion, may reduce the amount to be awarded pursuant to this subsection, or deny an award, to the extent that the prevailing party during the course of the proceedings engaged in conduct which unduly and unreasonably protracted the final resolution of the matter in controversy.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (d)(1)(D).

(Document No. 29, p. 1).

         Plaintiff has now filed a renewed motion, and increased the requested fees from $4, 705.80, to $5, 222.34. See (Document Nos. 22, and 31). Apparently, Plaintiff's counsel seeks additional compensation for the time spent revising its original unpersuasive motion and explaining various deficiencies in the management of this case. See (Document No. 32-2, p.3).[1]

         Although Defendant did not object to Plaintiff's original request, Defendant opposes Plaintiff's revised request and argues that “the number of hours requested by Plaintiff is excessive and warrants reduction.” (Document No. 35, p.1); see also (Document No. 24). Defendant's response includes the following instructive legal authority:

“Once the district court determines that plaintiffs have met the threshold conditions for an award of fees and costs under the EAJA, the district court must undertake the ‘task of determining what fee is reasonable.'” Harlan v. Colvin, No. 3:12-CV-443-GCM-DCK, 2014 WL 1632931, *2 (W.D. N.C. April 23, 2014) (citing Hyatt v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 239, 253 (4th Cir. 2002)). As a prevailing party, Plaintiff “bears the burden of establishing that the number of hours for which she seeks reimbursement is reasonable and does not include any claim for hours which are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Dixon v. Astrue, No. 5:06-CV-77-JG, 2008 WL 360989, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 8, 2008). “The district court has substantial discretion in fixing the amount of an EAJA award . . . but is charged with the duty to ensure that the final award is reasonable.” Id. (citing Hyatt v. North Carolina Dep't of Human Res., 315 F.3d 239, 254 (4th Cir. 2002) and Comm'r v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 163 (1990) (internal quotations omitted)).
Other relevant factors include (1) the novelty and complexity of the issues presented, (2) the experience and skill of the attorney, and (3) the typical range of compensated hours in a particular field. Miles v. Colvin, No. 5:12-CV-74-BO, 2014 WL 1309293, at *1 (E.D. N.C. July 24, 2014); Dixon, 2008 WL 360989, at *4; Bunn v. Bowen, 637 F.Supp. 464, 469 (E.D. N.C. 1986). Applying these considerations here, Defendant submits that Plaintiff has not met her burden of showing that 32.7 hours totaling $5, 222.34 is reasonable in this litigation.

(Document No. 35, pp. 1-2).

         In addition, Defendant notes that the record in this case was not lengthy, and that the issues were neither novel nor complicated. (Document No. 35, p. 4). Defendant contends that the hours requested are far in excess of the typical range of compensated hours in Social Security disability litigation. Id. Defendant concludes that it should not be required to cover the extra costs of Plaintiff's counsel's errors and mismanagement of the case. Id.

         Notably, particularly in the context of this review, Plaintiff's counsel missed the deadline to file a reply brief. See Local Rule 7.1 (e). Three days later, Plaintiff filed a “Motion To File Out Of Time” (Document No. 36) that failed to satisfy Local Rule 7.1 (b). Nevertheless, the Court still allowed Plaintiff to file a reply brief. See (Document No. 36).

         In reply, Plaintiff argues that “[t]his case was not mismanaged by Plaintiff's counsel, but the actions taken confused the Court. This is not Plaintiff's nor Defendant's fault, but time was spent redrafting the EAJA petition and should be compensated.” (Document No. 38).

         The undersigned finds Defendant's position persuasive. The undersigned agrees that Plaintiff's hours and fees are excessive for this case, and that Plaintiff should not seek fees for refiling its request for EAJA fees - the briefing of which resulted in yet more conduct inconsistent with the Local Rules. Moreover, the Court finds that Plaintiff's handling of this case “unduly and ...


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