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Nadine Bluford v. Commissioner of Social .Security

July 25, 2011

NADINE BLUFORD,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL .SECURITY, . DEFENDANT .



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dennis M. Cavanaugh

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

DENNIS M. CAVANAUGH, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon Nadine Bluford's ("Plaintiff")Application for Attorney's Fees pursuant to The Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. §2412. The Court has reviewed the submissions of the parties, and for the reasons set below,the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability Income ("DIB") on May 17,2007 and a concurrent application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on September 13, 2007. Commissioner's Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion "Comm'r Brief" at 4. After Plaintiff provided testimony at two hearings, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") decided that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and on October 4, 2010 she proceeded to file a complaint in the United States District Court, District ofNew Jersey. Id at 4-5. The District Court reversed and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further administrative action on April 15, 2011. Id at 5. Finally, on May 16, 2011, pursuant to §2412(b) of the EAJA, Petitioner moved for attorney's fees for 52.6 hours of work at an hourly rate or $185, totaling $9,731. Id at 5-6.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Overview

In order for Plaintiff to be awarded attorney's fees under the EAJA, "the Court must find that: (1) claimant is a prevailing party; (2) the Government's position was not substantially justified; and (3) no special circumstances exist to make an award unjust." Neal v. Astrue, 741 F. Supp. 2d 729, 731 (W.D.Pa. 2010) (citing United States v. Eleven Vehicles, 937 F. Supp 1143, 1150 (E.D.Pa. 1996)). If the number of hours claimed are "unnecessary, redundant, or inefficient," the Court should change them to "reflect a reasonable award." Gillem v Astrue, No. 06-6184 (WJM), 2008 WL 1925302, at *1 (D.N.J Apr. 30, 2008) (citing Ashton v. Pierce, 580 F. Supp. 440, 442 (D.D.C. 1984)). This Court has held that "somewhere in the neighborhood of forty hours" is a reasonable time for an attorney to spend on an average Social Security case. Id. at *2.

In the instant case, Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff is a prevailing party or that the Government's position was not substantially justified. Defendant also does not challenge the fee rate. However, Defendant does claim that the number of hours Plaintiff requests are unreasonable and that therefore the proposed fee award should be reduced. Comm'r Brief at 2. Also, Defendant argues that the attorney's fees that are awarded belong to Plaintiff and not Plaintiff's counsel. Id.

B. Reasonableness of Hours

i. 9.1 Letter

The Third Circuit has recognized that an attorney who comes into a case late in the litigation process needs a reasonable time to become familiar with the case and review the relevant facts. See Bastian v. Comm'r of. Soc, Sec., No. 06-4580 (WJM), 2009 WL 1438224, at *3 (D.N.J May 20, 2009) (finding that 14.5 hours of reviewing the administrative record was not excessive since the attorney took on the case late into litigation and needed to familiarize himself with the facts). Additionally, the Third Circuit has taken an attorney's level of expertise into consideration when determining whether hours spent were excessive. See Gillem, 2008 WL 1925302, at *2.

In the instant case, Plaintiff requests compensation for 20.1 attorney hours spent on the 9.1 Letter. See Time Log and Costs for Melanie A. Willette/Glenn B. Carey. This is a reasonable amount of time because since Ms. Willette, Plaintiff's attorney, did not represent Plaintiff at her administrative hearings and needed to familiarize herself with a vast number of documents pertaining to this case. Further, Ms. Willette's level of experience must be taken into consideration. While is true that during law school Ms. Willette spent a year acting as a "first-chair" on four Social Security matters in a clinical program and did intensive Social Security work during this time, she has only been a member of the New York Bar since 2009. See Declaration of Melanie A. Willette, Esq. at ΒΆ1, 3-4. Therefore, although she has Social Security experience, her experience dealing with this issue as an actual attorney is limited. Since Ms. Willette had to familiarize herself with the case and because she has limited ...


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