Bridges v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
JUDGMENT granting 26 Motion for Attorney Fees in the amount of $17,372.40 pursuant to the EAJA. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on January 8, 2021. (mll)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JANET DELISE BRIDGES
Civil No. 4:16-cv-04092
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Pending now before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Authorization of Fees Pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 406(b). ECF No. 26. On December 28, 2020, Defendant responded to Plaintiff’s
Motion. ECF No. 28. Plaintiff has also filed an itemized statement of attorney hours. ECF No.
30. This matter is now ripe for consideration.
On September 27, 2016, Plaintiff appealed to the Court from the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) denial of her request for disability benefits. ECF No. 1.
On January 23, 2018, Plaintiff’s case was reversed and remanded to the SSA for further
administrative review. ECF No. 16-17.
After that remand, Plaintiff was awarded disability benefits. ECF No. 26. Plaintiff was
awarded $69,489.60 as past-due benefits. Id. Of that amount, Plaintiff’s attorney claims he is
entitled to $17,372.40 in attorney’s fees. Id. With the current Motion, Plaintiff’s counsel seeks
that entire amount. Id.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A), whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a
claimant, that court is permitted to determine and to allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee
for the representation of the claimant before the court. This fee must not be in excess of 25 percent
of the total past-due DIB to which the claimant is entitled by reason of such judgment, and this fee
may be taken out of the amount of the Plaintiff’s past-due DIB. See id. However, a court is not
authorized to award attorney’s fees out of a claimant’s past-due SSI. See id.; Bowen v. Galbreath,
485 U.S. 74, 78 (1988) (holding that a court is not authorized to award past-due SSI benefits as
attorney’s fees under Section 406(b)).
Furthermore, a court is not authorized to approve a fee for time spent in the representation
of the Plaintiff at the agency level. See 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1). It is the Commissioner’s
responsibility to award the fees for any representation before an agency and such fees are not
awarded by the courts. See Pittman v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 42, 46 (8th Cir. 1990) (holding that “the
matter of attorney’s fees for services performed at the administrative level is committed by §
406(b)(1) to the responsibility of the Secretary exclusively and such fees may not be awarded by
the courts”). Instead, a plaintiff’s attorney must petition the agency for these fees. See 42 U.S.C.
In determining the reasonableness of a requested fee, the Eighth Circuit previously
determined that the “lodestar” approach should be applied. See Cotter v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 359,
363 (8th Cir. 1989), abrogated by Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002). The lodstar
approach for fee setting states that a reasonable fee is obtained by multiplying the number of hours
reasonably worked on a case by a reasonable hourly rate. Id. The United States Supreme Court
has, however, abrogated Cotter and held that the lodestar approach should not be used as the
standard for calculating reasonable attorney’s fees. See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 793
Instead, the United States Supreme Court held Section 406(b) instructs courts to use
attorney-client contingency fee agreements to determine the fees to be awarded. Id. at 808. Courts
should utilize these agreements in awarding fees because the court should not “override customary
attorney-client contingent-fee agreements.” Id. The court is, however, required to review the
reasonableness of fees yielded by a contingency fee agreement when awarding fees under Section
406(b). Id. (holding that “§ 406(b) instructs courts to review for reasonableness fees yielded by
those [contingency-fee] agreements”).
Based upon his itemized bill, Plaintiff’s attorney spent 20.2 hours of work devoted to
representing Plaintiff before the district court. ECF Nos. 30. Pursuant to the contingency fee
agreement, Plaintiff’s attorney is entitled to 25 percent of past-due benefits. Id. For work before
the district court, this amount totals $17,372.40. ECF No. 26.
The total request of $17,372.40 divided by the total number of hours requested of 20.2 for
work performed before the district court equals an hourly rate of approximately $860.01. Based
upon the experience of Plaintiff’s attorney and the contingency fee agreement between Plaintiff
and his attorney, this Court finds $860.01 is a reasonable hourly rate. See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
793. Therefore, the entire requested amount of $17,372.40 is awarded.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), the Court approves the requested attorney’s fees award in
the amount of $17,372.40. This amount represents approximately 20.2 court-related hours at an
hourly rate of $860.01.
Further, consistent with Plaintiff’s briefing on this matter, the Court also finds Plaintiff’s
counsel has previously received fee awards totaling $9,531.98, and Plaintiff’s counsel is directed
to refund that amount to Plaintiff. See ECF No. 26.
ENTERED this 8th day of January 2021.
Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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