Lane v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re 14 motion of plaintiff's attorney for attorney's fees- The motion is GRANTED for the reasons noted within; Plaintiff's attorney is awarded a fee of $20,022.25, and the Commissioner is ORDERED to release that amount to plaintiff's attorney. Signed by Judge William M Acker, Jr on 3/15/16. (SAC )
2016 Mar-15 PM 02:39
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CIVIL ACTION NO.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the motion of plaintiff’s attorney for the
award of attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). (Doc. 14).
In 2009, plaintiff entered into a contingency fee agreement with
her attorney. They agreed that plaintiff would only owe a fee to
the attorney if she was awarded past-due benefits. In the event
plaintiff obtained such an award from the federal district court,
the attorney would receive 25% of all past-due benefits awarded.
Commissioner’s denial of benefits and remanded the action for the
sole purpose of awarding benefits. (Doc. 13). Over a year later,
plaintiff was awarded past-due benefits in the amount of $80,089.
Fee awards in social security cases are governed by 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b). That statute provides that a court may allow a fee of up
to 25% of a plaintiff’s past-due benefits when the plaintiff
obtains a favorable judgment from the court. The Supreme Court has
held that the district court, before approving the requested fee,
must “tes[t] it for reasonableness,” acting “as an independent
check” to ensure that the awarded fee is reasonable. Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002). The Court made clear that the
statute does not favor lodestar fee agreements over contingency fee
agreements, though “[i]f the benefits are large in comparison to
the amount of time counsel spent on the case, a downward adjustment
is . . . in order.” Id. at 807-08.
Plaintiff’s attorney informed the court that she spent 21.3
representation before the ALJ and Appeals Council. (Doc. 14-2). She
seeks a fee award of $20,022.25, which is precisely 25% of the
past-due benefits awarded to plaintiff. (Id.). The Commissioner
objects to the attorney’s request, arguing that the amount sought
is not reasonable.
The court finds the requested amount to be reasonable and will
grant the request for attorney’s fees. While an effective hourly
rate of $940 is high, the court finds that it is reasonable because
(1) the nature of contingency fee arrangements often produces high
fee awards in some cases to balance out the lack of a collected fee
in others; and (2) plaintiff’s attorney likely spent significant
time representing plaintiff before the ALJ and Appeals Council, and
the court will take that time into account. Accordingly, the motion
of plaintiff’s attorney for attorney’s fees (Doc. 14) is GRANTED.
Plaintiff’s attorney is awarded a fee of $20,022.25, and the
Commissioner is ORDERED to release that amount to plaintiff’s
DONE this 15th day of March, 2016.
WILLIAM M. ACKER, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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