Butler v. Colvin

Filing 34

ORDER by Judge Laurel Beeler granting 32 Motion for Attorney Fees. The court grants the plaintiff's amended motion for attorney's fees. (lblc1S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 2/2/2017)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 San Francisco Division United States District Court Northern District of California 11 CHRISTIAN P. BUTLER, Case No. 3:14-cv-02050-LB Plaintiff, 12 v. 13 14 CAROLYN W. COLVIN, 15 Defendant. ORDER GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF’S COUNSEL’S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES Re: ECF No. 26 16 17 INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND 18 In this Social Security appeal, the parties stipulated to remand the case to the Commissioner for 19 20 further administrative action.1 On remand, the plaintiff was awarded past-due benefits in the amount of $131,510.00.2 The Commissioner withheld 25% of the retroactive benefits, or $32,877.50.3 21 22 The plaintiff’s counsel now seeks $22,877.50 of those benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) and the parties’ attorney-client fee agreement, which provides for a 25% § 406(b) contingency fee.4 Counsel 23 24 25 See Order – ECF No. 20. Record citations refer to material in the Electronic Case File (“ECF”); pinpoint citations are to the ECF-generated page numbers at the top of the documents. 1 27 28 2 ECF No. 26-4 at 5. 3 26 Id. Motion for Attorney’s Fees – ECF No. 26; Amended Motion for Attorney’s Fees – ECF No. 32; Fee Agreement – ECF No. 26-7. 4 ORDER — No. 14-cv-02050-LB 1 already received $4,789.51 in fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), which results in a 2 net fee of $18,087.99.5 Counsel also informs the court that the National Security Disability Advocates, 3 “the legal entity that represented Mr. Butler in the proceedings before the Administration[,] intends to 4 separately move the Administration for the $10,000 that would remain from Mr. Butler’s past-due 5 benefits.”6 The Commissioner submitted an analysis of counsel’s request.7 6 7 The court can decide this matter without oral argument. See Civil L.R. 7-1(b). The court grants the motion because the amount of fees requested is reasonable. 8 ANALYSIS 9 Under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), “[w]henever a court renders a judgment favorable to a [social security] 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 claimant . . . , the court may determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee” for the 12 claimant’s counsel, which can be no more than 25% of the total of past-due benefits awarded to the 13 claimant. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A). A court may award such a fee even if the court’s judgment did not 14 immediately result in an award of past-due benefits; where the court has rendered a judgment 15 favorable to a claimant by reversing an earlier determination by an ALJ and remanding for further 16 consideration, the court may calculate the 25% fee based upon any past-due benefits awarded on 17 remand. See, e.g., Crawford v. Astrue, 586 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2009) (en banc). 18 In considering a motion for attorney’s fees under section 406(b), the court must review counsel’s 19 request “as an independent check” to ensure that the contingency fee agreement “yield[s] reasonable 20 results.” See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002). Section 406(b) “does not displace 21 contingent-fee agreements within the statutory ceiling; instead, § 406(b) instructs courts to review for 22 reasonableness fees yielded by those agreements.” Id. at 808–09. To evaluate the reasonableness of a 23 fee request under section 406(b), the court should consider the character of the representation and the 24 results achieved. Id. at 808; see also Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1151. This includes analyzing whether 25 26 5 Ortega Decl. – ECF No. 26-3 ¶ 7. 27 6 Motion for Attorney’s Fees at 1; Amended Motion for Attorney’s Fees at 1–2. 28 7 Statement of Defendant’s Non-Party Analysis – ECF No. 29. ORDER — No. 14-cv-02050-LB 2 1 substandard representation justifies awarding less than 25% in fees; any delay in the proceedings 2 attributable to the attorney requesting the fee; whether the benefits of the representation are out of 3 proportion to time spent on the case; and the risk counsel assumed by accepting the case. See 4 Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1151–52 (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808). 5 The court must offset an award of section 406(b) attorney’s fees by any award of fees granted 6 under the EAJA. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 796; Parrish v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 698 F.3d 1215, 1218 (9th 7 Cir. 2012). 8 The court finds that the fee request is reasonable. The 25% contingency fee agreement is within 9 section 406(b)(1)(A)’s statutory ceiling. The work was reasonable given the favorable outcome and the 10 time spent is not out of proportion to the fee award. United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 CONCLUSION 13 The court finds that fees of $22,877.50 are reasonable under § 406(b), reduces the award by the 14 $4,789.51 in EAJA fees, and authorizes a net fee award of $18,087.99. 15 16 IT IS SO ORDERED. 17 Dated: February 2, 2017 ______________________________________ LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER — No. 14-cv-02050-LB 3

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