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Grabowski v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 14, 2015




Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on February 19, 2013, seeking judicial review of Defendant’s determination that she is not entitled to social security disability benefits. On November 10, 2014, this Court reversed Defendant’s decision and entered judgment in Plaintiff’s favor. (ECF Nos. 28, 31.) Plaintiff thereafter moved for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) and, on April 21, 2015, the Court awarded Plaintiff attorney’s fees in the amount of $6, 171.00 and costs of $183.00. (ECF No. 38.) Presently before the Court is a motion filed by Plaintiff’s counsel for attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). (ECF No. 37.)

In the motion, Plaintiff’s counsel seeks attorney’s fees totaling $14, 056.00, which represents 25% of the past due social security disability benefits paid on Plaintiff’s account as a result of Plaintiff’s success in this matter. Plaintiff’s counsel’s request is premised on a fee agreement signed by Plaintiff. (See ECF No. 37-3.) Plaintiff’s counsel indicates that, if her request is granted, she will refund to Plaintiff the amount for EAJA fees that are approved and received, less expenses.[1] Plaintiff’s counsel also indicates that she sent a copy of the motion to Plaintiff, as well as a letter informing Plaintiff of her opportunity to send a statement to the Court, within fifteen days, objecting to counsel’s request. (See ECF No. 37-5.) The Court did not receive any communications from Plaintiff, nor did Defendant file an opposition to Plaintiff’s counsel’s motion.

42 U.S.C. § 406(b) directs that a court may allow a “reasonable fee” for court-related services not exceeding 25 percent of a claimant’s past-due benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A). Contingency fee agreements like the one signed by Plaintiff are typical in social security cases. In Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002), the Supreme Court recognized the permissibility of contingent fees within the confines of § 406(b), subject to judicial review for reasonableness:

Most plausibly read, we conclude, § 406(b) does not displace contingent-fee agreements as the primary means by which fees are set for successfully representing Social Security benefits claimants in court. Rather, § 406(b) calls for court review of such arrangements as an independent check, to assure that they yield reasonable results in particular cases. Congress has provided one boundary line: Agreements are unenforceable to the extent that they provide for fees exceeding 25 percent of the past-due benefits.

Id. at 807 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)). The Gisbrecht Court rejected the lodestar approach as the measure of reasonableness in a § 406(b) fee petition, id. at 806, giving primacy to the contingent fee agreement, but testing its reasonableness “based on the character of the representation and the results the representative achieved.” Id. at 808. In making the reasonableness determination, “the court may require the claimant’s attorney to submit not as a basis for satellite litigation, but as an aid to the court’s assessment of the reasonableness of the fees yielded by the fee agreement, a record of the hours spent representing the claimant and a statement of the lawyer’s normal hourly billing charge for noncontingent-fee cases.” Id.

Plaintiff’s counsel has attached to her motion a detailed accounting of the time expended representing Plaintiff in this matter. (See ECF No. 37-4.) She also indicates that her normal hourly fee is $230.00. The Court finds that the time reflected in counsel’s billing records are neither inflated nor unreasonable. Plaintiff’s counsel was an effective, zealous advocate for her client and the results she achieved were excellent. Her request for $14, 056.00 is within the range permitted under § 406(b) and the Court concludes that she is entitled to an award in this amount under the statute.

Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the motion for authorization of attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) is GRANTED;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s counsel is awarded $14, 056.00 as attorney’s fees, which is being withheld by the Commissioner from Plaintiff’s past due benefits;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, that Plaintiff’s counsel shall remit to Plaintiff the amount of $6, 171.00 that ...

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