United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
DEBORAH G. COPPER, PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
now before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney
Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”). ECF Nos. 16, 17. The matter is before
the undersigned by consent of the parties. ECF No. 7. The
Government has filed a response and the matter is now ripe
January 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's
fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal Access
to Justice Act (hereinafter “EAJA”), requesting
$8, 302.80, representing a total of 34.85 attorney hours for
work performed in 2014 and 2015 at an hourly rate of $187.00.
ECF No. 16-1. On January 14, 2016, the Commissioner filed a
response objecting to the hourly rate requested for 2014 and
the number of hours Plaintiff's counsel is requesting.
ECF No. 19. The Plaintiff filed a reply on February 24, 2016,
contending the fee requested is reasonable and compensable
under the EAJA. ECF No. 20.
to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), the court must award
attorney's fees to a prevailing social security claimant
unless the Commissioner's position in denying benefits
was substantially justified. The burden is on the
Commissioner to show substantial justification for the
government's denial of benefits. Jackson v.
Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 (8th Cir. 1986). Under
Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993), a
social security claimant who obtains a sentence-four judgment
reversing the Commissioner's denial of benefits and
remanding the case for further proceedings is a prevailing
EAJA requires an attorney seeking fees to submit “an
itemized statement ... stating the actual time expended and
the rate at which fees and other expenses were
computed.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). Attorneys
seeking fees under federal fee-shifting statutes such as the
EAJA are required to present fee applications with
“contemporaneous time records of hours worked and rates
claimed, plus a detailed description of the subject matter of
the work.” Id. Where documentation is
inadequate, the court may reduce the award accordingly.
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).
EAJA is not designed to reimburse without limit. Pierce
v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 573 (1988). In determining a
reasonable attorney's fee, the court will in each case
consider the following factors: time and labor required; the
novelty and difficulty of questions involved; the skill
required to handle the problems presented; the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case, the
attorney's experience, ability, and reputation; the
benefits resulting to the client from the services; the
customary fee for similar services; the contingency or
certainty of compensation; the results obtained; and, the
amount involved. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
430 (1983). Further, the Court can determine the
reasonableness and accuracy of a fee request, even in the
absence of an objection by the Commissioner. Clements v.
Astrue, 2009 WL 4508480 (W.D. Ark. Dec. 1, 2009);
see also Decker v. Sullivan, 976 F.2d 456, 459 (8th
Cir. 1992) (“although the issue was not raised on
appeal, fairness to the parties requires an accurately
calculated attorney's fee award.”).
present action, Plaintiff's case was remanded by this
Court pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Commissioner does not contest Plaintiff's claim that
she is the prevailing party and does not oppose her
application for fees under the EAJA. (ECF No. 16) The Court
construes this lack of opposition to this application as an
admission that the government's decision to deny benefits
was not “substantially justified” and that
Plaintiff is the prevailing party and entitled to receive an
award under the EAJA.
general rule, attorney fees may not be awarded in excess of
$125.00 per hour-the maximum statutory rate under §
2412(d)(2)(A)-unless the Court finds that an increase in the
cost of living or a special factor such as the limited
availability of qualified attorney's justifies a higher
fee. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). The decision to increase
the hourly rate is not automatic, though, and remains at the
discretion of the district court. McNulty v.
Sullivan, 886 F.2d 1074 (8th Cir. 1989). In Sanders
v. Astrue, 2012 WL 19422 (W.D. Ark. Jan 3, 2012), this
Court decided to follow the approach set forth in Knudsen
v. Barnhart, 360 F.Supp.2d 963, 969-974 (N.D. Iowa
2004), wherein the Court found that “a reasonable
balance between accuracy and ease of computation would be to
require attorneys to adjust fees using the CPI available and
applicable to the year when services were performed.”
Id. at 974. In this case, we find that an increase
in the cost of living justifies a higher fee. However, we
find Plaintiff's request for compensation at the rate of
$187.00 per hour for work performed in 2014 to be excessive.
Accordingly, the Plaintiff is entitled to only $186.00 per
hour for work performed during that time frame.
Blocked Billing Entries:
Defendant objects to 2.00 attorney hours, contending they are
not compensable the EAJA because they consist of batched or
blocked time entries that comingle attorney tasks with
non-compensable tasks. See Role Models Am., Inc. v.
Brownlee, 353 F.3d 962, 971 (D.C Cir. 2004) (noting that
where time entries “lump together multiple tasks,
” it is impossible for the court to evaluate their
reasonableness). We agree that counsel has lumped no less
than eight different tasks, some of which are non-compensable
administrative tasks, into one time entry on October 10,
2015, and has requested 2.00 attorney hours for these tasks.
It appears that counsel seeks compensation for additional
review and research performed in conjunction with this