United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the court on Plaintiff's counsel's
motion for fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). [ECF No. 28].
On January 6, 2014, the court reversed the Commissioner's
decision that had denied Plaintiff's claim for social
security disability benefits and remanded the case for
further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [ECF No. 17]. On May 5, 2014, the
court issued an order granting Plaintiff's motion for
fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("the
EAJA") and directing the Commissioner to pay Plaintiff
$4, 000. [ECF No. 22]. On June 1, 2016, Plaintiff's
counsel informed the court that the Commissioner subsequently
awarded total past-due benefits in the amount of $85,
[ECF Nos. 28 at 2, 28-3]. Counsel requested the court
authorize a fee in the amount of $21, 131, which represents
25% of past-due benefits resulting from the claim, as agreed
to by Plaintiff in the contingent fee agreement dated July
27, 2012. [ECF Nos. 28, 28-3]. The Commissioner subsequently
filed a response in support of counsel's request for
attorney fees. [ECF No. 29]. The court has considered the
motion for fees, and for the reasons that follow, the court
approves the motion under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), as set
Consideration of Motion for Attorney Fees Under 42 U.S.C.
court renders a favorable judgment to a claimant in a claim
brought against the Commissioner, the relevant statute allows
the court to "determine and allow as part of its
judgment a reasonable fee" to the claimant's
attorney that is "not in excess of 25 percent of the
total of the past-due benefits to which the claimant is
entitled by reasons of such judgment." 42 U.S.C. §
406(b)(1)(A). The Supreme Court held in Gisbrecht v.
Barnhardt, 535 U.S. 789 (2002), that 42 U.S.C. §
406(b) instructs courts to review contingent fee agreements
for reasonableness where the agreed-upon fee does not exceed
the statutory ceiling of 25%. However, the contingent fee may
be reduced from the agreed-upon amount "when (1) the fee
is out of line ‘with the character of the
representation and the results . . . achieved, ' (2)
counsel's delay caused past-due benefits to accumulate
‘during the pendency of the case in court, ' or (3)
past-due benefits ‘are large in comparison to the
amount of time counsel spent on the case.'" Mudd
v. Barnhardt, 418 F.3d 424, 427 (4th Cir. 2005),
citing Gisbrecht at 808.
filed a copy of the contingent fee agreement, signed by
Plaintiff, which provides for a contingent fee of
"twenty-five (25%) percent of all the past-due benefits
resulting from my claim(s)." See ECF No. 28-2.
Because the fee agreement is presumptively valid under the
Supreme Court's ruling in Gisbrecht, the court
considers only the reasonableness of the fee.
court concludes that the fee is not out of line with the
character of the representation and the results achieved.
Counsel represented the claimant over a period of
approximately three-and-a-half years in both administrative
and district court proceedings. See ECF Nos. 28-1 at
2, 28-2. Counsel obtained total past-due benefits on
claimant's behalf in the amount of $85, 400 for the
period from October 2008 through April 2016. [ECF No. 28-3].
In consideration of the nature of the representation at both
the administrative and district court levels, the period of
the representation, and the amount of past-due benefits
obtained for Plaintiff, the court concludes that the fee is
not out of line with the character of the representation and
the results achieved.
court further determines that counsel did not cause any
delays that affected the accumulation of past-due benefits
during the pendency of the case in this court. Although
counsel received one 30-day extension, he filed his brief
ahead of the extended deadline. See ECF Nos. 9, 10,
12. Plaintiff's singular extension request did not delay
the court's decision.
court finds that the requested fee is not large in comparison
to the amount of time counsel spent on the case. The record
reflects that counsel represented the claimant for 29 hours
at the district court level. See ECF Nos. 28-1 at 1.
Although an hourly rate of $590.72 seems exorbitant, the
undersigned may consider as part of the reasonableness
determination the work expended by counsel at the agency
level. See Mudd v. Barnhardt, 418 F.3d 424, 428 (4th
Cir. 2005) (while the court may not award attorney's fees
based on the attorney's work at the agency level, the
court may consider "as one factor in its reasonableness
determination, the work performed by counsel on the case when
it was pending at the agency level"). The court remanded
the case to the agency on January 16, 2014. [ECF No. 17].
Counsel represented Plaintiff at the agency level from
January 2014 until a favorable decision was rendered on March
22, 2016. [ECF No. 28 at 1]. Based on the length of the
administrative process and result achieved, the undersigned
concludes counsel devoted substantial time to the claim at
the administrative level. In light of the foregoing, the
requested fee is not unreasonably large in comparison to the
amount of time counsel spent on the case.
court finds that the contingent fee agreement complies with
42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A) in that it is both reasonable
and does not exceed the statutory maximum fee. Therefore, the
court grants Plaintiffs counsel's motion for fees under
42 U.S.C. § 406(b) and approves a total attorney's
fee of $21, 131.
Refund of EAJA Fees
Gisbrecht Court directed that the attorney should
refund the smaller fee to "the claimant" when the
attorney obtained fees under both the EAJA and 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b). Therefore, the court directs counsel, upon
receipt of the total fee approved herein, to refund to
Plaintiff the $4, 000 EAJA fee paid in this action.