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Crumbley v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

October 15, 2014

BERTHA CRUMBLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CHARLES H. WEIGLE, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and Social Security Act. Doc. 20. Counsel filed his motion for fees on September 26, 2014, requesting $6.994.28 for 38 attorney work hours at a rate of $184.06 per hour, and $136.00 for 1.7 hours of administrative work at a rate of $80.00 per hour, totaling $7, 267.09. Pl.'s Mot. for Att'y's Fees 1, Doc. 20. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation which requests the Court dismiss Plaintiff's Petition and instead award Plaintiff $6, 845.28 in attorney's fees. Docs. 17 & 18. It is therefore RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees (Doc. 20) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) be GRANTED; and that Plaintiff be awarded fees in the amount of $7118.77 and that these fees be paid directly to the Plaintiff.[1]

LEGAL STANDARDS

EAJA allows litigants who have prevailed in a civil action against the United States to recover fees and expenses incurred by that litigant unless the Court finds that the Government's position was substantially justified. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Under EAJA, attorney's fee awards are calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rate for the attorney's services. To decide if the claimed number of hours expended is reasonable, the Court, with or without the aid of witnesses, may rely upon its own expertise and experience. Norman v. Housing Authority of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1303 (11th Cir. 1988). If the number of hours claimed appears excessive or is unsupported by sufficient documentation or testimony, it is within the Court's discretion to designate a more appropriate figure. Id .

To determine if the requested hourly rate is reasonable, the Court must employ the two-step process set forth by the Eleventh Circuit in Meyer v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 1029 (11th Cir. 1992). Under Meyer, the process begins with a determination of the market rate for "similar services [provided] by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation." Id . at 1033-1034 (citations and footnote omitted). If the resulting rate is equal to or less than the statutory maximum of $125 per hour, [2] no further analysis is required. Id . If the market rate is greater than the statutory maximum, however, the Court must take into account increases in the cost of living and any special factors in deciding whether an upward departure is appropriate. Id .

According to the Eleventh Circuit, "Congress undoubtedly expected that the courts would use the cost-of-living escalator to insulate EAJA awards from inflation, " and "this expectation will not be realized... if district courts, without explanation, refuse to consider increases in the cost of living when calculating EAJA fees." Id . at 1034. While the Supreme Court implied that the cost-of-living escalator is "next to automatic, " the Eleventh Circuit did not accept that interpretation as part of its holding because "[a]lthough it seems difficult to envision a situation in which the district court would not adjust the cap upward for inflation, such a situation could theoretically exist...." Id . at 1034-1035. Rather than deem the adjustment automatic, the Eleventh Circuit requires the Court determining attorney's fees "to articulate the decisions it made, give principled reasons for those decisions, and show its calculation." Id . at 1035, quoting Norman, 836 F.2d at 1304.

DISCUSSION

In this case, there is no dispute that Plaintiff is the prevailing party, that Plaintiff incurred attorney's fees, and that the Commissioner's position was not substantially justified. Accordingly, the only issues to address are the amount of attorney's fees, costs, and expenses to be awarded and who shall receive the amount awarded.

Hours Reasonably Expended

Plaintiff asserts that Attorney Howard D. Olinsky spent 38 hours litigating this case on Plaintiff's behalf. In support, Plaintiff has submitted an itemized schedule of hours detailing each of Mr. Olinksy's activities in this case. After review, the Court finds that the hours expended by Mr. Olinksy in litigating this case were reasonable.

Reasonable Hourly Rate

Plaintiff asserts that the appropriate hourly rate to be used in calculating attorney's fees in this case is $184.06 per hour. (Doc. 20, p. 1). After applying the two-step process required under Meyer, the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to $7118.77 in attorney's fees.

The first step requires the Court to determine the relevant market rate. The Eleventh Circuit has stated that:

The applicant bears the burden of producing satisfactory evidence that the requested rate is in line with prevailing market rates. Satisfactory evidence at a minimum is more than the affidavit of the attorney performing the work.... Satisfactory evidence necessarily must speak to rates actually billed and paid in similar lawsuits. Testimony that a given fee is reasonable is therefore unsatisfactory evidence of market rate. Evidence of rates may be adduced through direct evidence of charges by lawyers under similar circumstances or by opinion evidence. The weight to be given to opinion evidence of course will be affected by the detail contained in the ...

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