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Cintron v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 25, 2015



KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Alicia Cintron's motion for attorneys' fees (ECF No. 25), pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). The Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") opposes this motion (ECF No. 28), contending that the amount of attorneys' fees requested is excessive.

In relevant part, the EAJA provides:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses, in addition to any costs awarded pursuant to subsection (a), incurred by that party in any civil action..., including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust.

28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

On November 22, 2013, Cintron filed a complaint in this Court appealing the final decision of the Commissioner that denied her claim for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (ECF No. 1) On December 2, 2014, this Court remanded the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Richard L. De Steno dated July 6, 2012. (ECF Nos. 22, 23) Therefore, Cintron is a prevailing party under the EAJA.

Pursuant to the EAJA, Cintron's counsel, the Rutgers School of Law-Newark Urban Legal Clinic (specifically, Jon C. Dubin), originally requested attorneys' fees in the amount of $13, 671. (Pl. Mot. 25- Proposed Order, ECF No. 25). His application, however, now reflects a net upward adjustment to $14, 737.24 (75.19 hours of attorney time at an hourly rate of $196). (Pl. Reply 15, ECF No. 29) Mr. Dubin's adjusted request reflects (1) certain voluntary reductions in requested compensation; (2) 7.25 additional hours for his reply brief on this motion; and (3) one hour for e-mail exchanges between the parties relating to the attorneys' fees application.[1]

The Commissioner does not make any "substantial justification" argument under the EAJA or question Mr. Dubin's calculated hourly rate of $196. Rather, her sole contention is that the amount of time expended on the litigation was excessive. The Commissioner estimates that this case warrants compensation for twenty to forty hours of work.

A court may only award reasonable attorneys' fees under the EAJA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A); see generally Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 437 (1983) (a court has discretion to deny award of fees that are excessive or unreasonable). In evaluating an EAJA fee application, a court is to apply "traditional equitable principles." Meyler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2008 WL 2704831, at *2 (D.N.J. July 7, 2008) (citing Taylor v. United States, 815 F.2d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 1987)). 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(C) itself provides that "[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)(C).

The party seeking fees has the burden of showing that the dollar amount of the request is reasonable. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). The party opposing a fee request has the burden to submit objections that are specific and well-supported. See United States v. Eleven Vehicles, 200 F.3d 203, 211-12 (3d Cir. 2000) ("[A] court may not reduce counsel fees sua sponte as excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary' in the absence of a sufficiently specific objection to the amount of fees requested.); Bell v. United Princeton Properties, 884 F.2d 713, 715 (3d Cir. 1989).

The sole issue here is whether the number of hours Mr. Dubin expended on this litigation was excessive. Specifically, the Commissioner considers unreasonable Mr. Dubin's expenditures of (1) 19.75 hours for his L. Civ. R. 9.1 brief; (2) one hour for reviewing emails and attachments relating to an extension request; and (3) 6.75 hours for this motion for attorneys' fees. I address each of these objections in turn.

1. Preparation of L. Civ. R. 9.1 brief

The Commissioner argues that Mr. Dubin's expenditure of 19.75 hours on his L. Civ. R. 9.1 brief (ECF No. 13) is excessive since the brief copies a great deal of material from Mr. Dubin's L. Civ. R. 9.1 letter (ECF No. 10). In his reply, Mr. Dubin ...

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