Clayton Wood v. Carolyn Colvin

Filing 31

ORDER by Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley denying without prejudice 29 Motion for Attorney Fees. (ahm, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 7/11/2017)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 CLAYTON WOOD, Plaintiff, 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Case No.14-cv-03764-JSC ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR FEES v. NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Re: Dkt. No. 29 Defendant. 12 13 In this Social Security case, Plaintiff Clayton Wood moves for attorneys’ fees pursuant to 14 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). (Dkt. No. 27.) Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Commissioner of the 15 Social Security Administration (“SSA”), submitted a response analyzing the fee request which 16 does not take a position as to the reasonableness of the fee request. After carefully considering the 17 arguments and briefing submitted, the Court concludes that oral argument is unnecessary, see Civ. 18 L.R. 7-1(b), and denies the motion without prejudice. 19 20 BACKGROUND This case stems from Plaintiff’s appeal of the SSA’s denial of his application for disability 21 benefits for a combination of physical and mental impairments, including: post traumatic stress 22 disorder, head injury, head pain, depression, ringing in the inner ear, blurred eye vision, and short 23 term memory loss. On August 14, 2015, the Court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary 24 judgment, denied Defendant’s cross motion for summary judgment, and remanded to the SSA for 25 further proceedings, concluding that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) committed legal error 26 in weighing the medical evidence and evaluating Plaintiff’s credibility. (Dkt. No. 19.) On 27 remand, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was, and continues to be, disabled as of November 28 1 2011. (Dkt. No. 29-1 at 1.1) As a result, the SSA awarded Plaintiff past-due benefits, in the 2 amount of $53,881.50 for himself and $19,476 for his minor daughter, as well as ongoing benefits. 3 (Id.) On December 28, 2015, pursuant to the parties’ stipulation, the Court awarded $4,303.92 in 4 fees to Plaintiff’s counsel pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. 5 § 2412(d). (Dkt. No. 27.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 6 406(b). (Dkt. No. 29.) Counsel requests fees in the amount of $15,339.00; this total represents 7 25% of Plaintiff’s and his daughter’s past-due benefits. (Dkt. No. 27 at 8.) DISCUSSION 8 Section 406(b) provides that “[w]henever a court renders a judgment favorable to a [social 9 security] claimant under this subchapter who was represented before the court by an attorney, the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 court may determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee” to claimant’s attorney; 12 such a fee can be no more than 25% of the total of past-due benefits awarded to the claimant. 42 13 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); Wells v. Colvin, 18 No. 12-CV-05287-JST, 2015 WL 4072847, at *1 (N.D. Cal. July 2, 2015). 19 Under Section 406(b), a court must serve “as an independent check” of contingency fee 20 agreements “to assure that they yield reasonable results.” Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 21 807 (2002). Section 406(b) “does not displace contingent-fee agreements within the statutory 22 ceiling; instead, [Section] 406(b) instructs courts to review for reasonableness fees yielded by 23 those agreements.” Id. at 808-09. The court’s review of a fee agreement is based on the character 24 of the representation and the results achieved, see Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808, and can include 25 analyzing: whether counsel provided substandard representation, any dilatory conduct by counsel 26 to accumulate additional fees, whether the requested fees are excessively large in relation to the 27 1 28 Record citations are to material in the Electronic Case File (“ECF”); pinpoint citations are to the ECF-generated page numbers at the top of the documents. 2 1 benefits achieved, and the risk counsel assumed by accepting the case. See Crawford, 586 F.3d at 2 1151-52; Wells, 2015 WL 4072847 at *1. Plaintiff’s counsel has provided insufficient information for the Court to analyze the 3 reasonableness of his fee request. First, counsel bases his fee request in part on the contingency 5 fee agreement that he had with Plaintiff which provides in part that he shall receive 25 percent of 6 any award of past-due benefits. (Dkt. No. 29-3 at 1.) However, this agreement was signed by Mr. 7 Wood June 15, 2015 and “approved by the law firm” August 2, 2015—which is four months after 8 the motion for summary judgment was fully briefed and while that motion was under 9 submission—that is, after all the substantive work had been performed in this case. (Dkt. No. 29- 10 3 at 3.) To the extent that there is another retainer agreement, which would govern the time period 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 4 relevant to the Court’s order granting Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, counsel may re- 12 file his motion for attorney’s fees attaching the applicable retainer agreement.2 Second, counsel 13 has failed to submit any evidence or documentation supporting his request for $15,339 in fees. 14 Notably, he has not submitted a declaration attesting to his hourly rate, detailing the hours 15 expended on this matter, or otherwise explaining the reasonableness of his request for $15,399. 16 Finally, as the Commissioner notes, the docket does not reflect that counsel served a copy of his 17 motion for fees on Plaintiff. 18 Accordingly, Plaintiff’s counsel’s motion for attorney’s fees is DENIED without prejudice 19 to renewal provided he addresses the issues raised herein. Should counsel due so, he must serve a 20 copy of the motion on Plaintiff and file proof of service of the same. 21 This Order disposes of Docket No. 29. 22 IT IS SO ORDERED. 23 Dated: July 11, 2017 24 JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY United States Magistrate Judge 25 26 2 27 28 Further, Plaintiff’s Notice of Change in Benefits letter which was attached to counsel’s motion states in part that “Under the fee agreement, the representative cannot charge more than $6000.00 for his or her work.” (Dkt. No. 29-1 at 2.) Counsel shall explain what fee agreement this statement refers to in any renewed fee motion. 3

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?