Miller v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Judge Karon O Bowdre on 9/5/12. (SAC )
2012 Sep-05 AM 09:19
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WANDA D. MILLER
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of Social Security,
) CIVIL ACTION NO.
This case is before the court on Plaintiff’s Counsel’s “Motion for Award of Attorney’s
Fees” (doc. 13). For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court finds that the
Motion for Award of Attorney’s Fees (doc. 13) is due to be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED
Plaintiff’s counsel attaches records reflecting 19.2 hours spent at the district court level
and separate records reflecting 43.5 hours spent at the administrative level. He also attaches the
fee agreement between himself and the plaintiff agreeing to an attorney fee of “equal to 25
percent of the past due benefits paid to me.” (doc. 13-5).
Further, the petition attaches a letter
from the Social Security Administration dated June 16, 2012, stating the amount of past due
benefits awarded and advising that it withheld $18,922.48 from the past due benefits to pay
attorney’s fees. (doc. 13-2, at 3).
First, the court confirms that it may only determine the value of the services rendered at
the district court level, and that it “is without jurisdiction to award fees for professional
representation in the administrative proceedings.” Gardner v. Mitchell, 391 F.2d 582 (5th Cir.
1968). The “authority to award an attorney’s fee for representation of a claimant before the
Secretary [is] granted by 42 U.S.C. s [sic] 406(a) to the Secretary alone.” Caldwell v. Califano,
455 F. Supp. 1069, 1070 (N.D. Ala. 1978). Therefore, the court can only consider in its award
the services that Plaintiff’s counsel lists in document 13-3 and cannot consider administrative
services listed in document 13-4.
Second, the court must determine the reasonableness of the fee request for services before
this court. The court has reviewed the counsel’s services rendered in document 13-3, which
includes 10 hours researching and preparing the plaintiff’s brief and substantial time drafting the
plaintiff’s federal appeal and reviewing the administrative documents related to the case. In this
case, the plaintiff’s counsel achieved full recovery for his client and produced a very compelling
and well-written brief on behalf of the plaintiff. For this particular case, the court finds in its
discretion that 19.2 hours is a reasonable number of hours spent on plaintiff’s case.
The court must also determine the reasonable rate of attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court,
in Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002), (abrogating Kay v. Apfel, 176 F.3d 1322 (11th
Cir. 1999)), held that a 25% contingency fee agreement under 42 U.S.C. 406(b) is presumptively
reasonable, subject to “court review of such arrangements as an independent check, to assure that
they yield reasonable results in particular cases.” Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807. The Court also
stated that a downward adjustment may be necessary if “the benefits are large in comparison to
the amount of time counsel spent on the case.” Id. at 808. The attorney for the plaintiff has the
burden of proving the reasonableness of the fee within the twenty-five percent limit. Id. at 807.
The court has reviewed the terms of the fee agreement; the record of attorney services
rendered; the letter from the Social Security Administration to the Plaintiff dated June 16, 2012,
granting full benefits for the plaintiff; the information in the petition for attorney’s fees; and the
docket sheet for this case. While that counsel achieved a great victory for his client, a full
twenty-five percent award would result in counsel receiving $985.55 for every hour of district
court work on the case. That hourly rate screams excessive without any comment from the court.
As the government points out in its Response (doc. 14), an award of $18,922.48 would result in a
windfall to counsel, which the Supreme Court advised reviewing courts to disallow. Id. at 808.
In previous Social Security attorney petitions, this court has deemed reasonable attorney’s
fees to be an approximate average of $175 per hour. After review of the counsel’s records and
exhibits and in light of the counsel’s high quality of work and exceptional result, the court finds
that a $200 per hour rate is reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with the local
market rate for attorneys with comparable experience and expertise.
Accordingly, the court finds that the motion is due to be granted to this extent: it
authorizes an attorney’s fee of $3,840.00 ($200.00 x 19.2= $3840.00) for services rendered
before this court.
Dated this 5th day of September, 2012.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?