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Heston Chahua v. Michael J. Astrue

June 21, 2011

HESTON CHAHUA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hochberg, District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

OPINION & ORDER

This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's Application for Attorney Fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d).

I. Factual and Procedural Background

This application arises upon a consent order entered by this Court on February 24, 2011 remanding this case for further administrative action. Plaintiff's counsel, the Rutgers Urban Legal Clinic, represented Plaintiff for the federal court appeal of plaintiff's social security disability case, which included tasks such as becoming familiar with the facts and record of the case, filing a Rule 9.1 letter, filing a brief on behalf of plaintiff, and negotiating with defendant regarding remand. Plaintiff's counsel now seeks $14,379.36 to cover 78.55 hours of attorney time at an hourly rate of $183.06.

II. Discussion

The Commissioner does not contest that plaintiff is a "prevailing party" under 28 U.S.C.§ 2412(d), nor does the Commissioner contest that plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees.

This case presents only two issues. The first issue is whether plaintiff is entitled to the full $14,379.36 requested. The second issue is whether the Court should award those fees to plaintiff or to plaintiff's pro bono counsel.

A. Standard of Review

When a prevailing party seeks an award of attorney's fees, "the party seeking attorney's fees has the burden to prove that its request for attorney's fees is reasonable." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). The party should "submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed." Id (quotations omitted). After the moving party meets this burden "the party opposing the fee award then has the burden to challenge . . . the reasonableness of the requested fee." Id. (citing Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713 (3d Cir. 1989)). If the Court deems the requested fee unreasonable, it "may reduce the award accordingly." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).

In making a decision on the appropriate amount of a fee award, the Court must "provide a concise but clear explanation of its reasons for the fee award." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. In doing so, "the district court must explain on the record the reasons for its decisions." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1187. The district court has "a great deal of discretion in deciding . . . a reasonable fee award" and "will inevitably be required to engage in a fair amount of 'judgment calling' based upon its experience with the case and its general experience as to how much time a case requires." Bell, 884 F.2d at 721.

B. Number of Hours

Plaintiff submits a fee application indicating a total of 78.55 hours expended on this case.

See Declaration of Jon C. Dubin, Docket # 21, at 17 ("Dubin Decl."); Supplemental Declaration of John C. Dubin, Docket # 24, at 17 ("Dubin Supp. Decl.").*fn1 Plaintiff utilizes an hourly rate of $183.06, taking into account the figures set forth within EAJA as well as the rate of inflation. Application for Attorney Fees, Docket #21, at 4 ("Application"). Plaintiff calculates a total fee request of $14,379.36 based on the product of the hourly rate and submitted hours. The Commissioner does not dispute that $183.06 is the proper hourly rate, but argues that the amount of time listed in ...


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