Williams v. Berryhill

Filing 37

ORDER. In the attached order, the court grants 32 the plaintiff's counsel's motion for attorney's fees. (lblc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 7/19/2021)

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Case 3:18-cv-07126-LB Document 37 Filed 07/19/21 Page 1 of 3 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 ARTHUR J. WILLIAMS, Case No. 18-cv-07126-LB Plaintiff, 12 ORDER GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF’S COUNSEL’S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES v. 13 14 NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Re: ECF No. 32 Defendant. 15 16 17 INTRODUCTION The court previously granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and remanded the 18 19 action to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.1 On remand, the plaintiff 20 received a past-due benefits award.2 His counsel now seeks fees of $16,916.00, which is within the 21 25-percent limit in 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) and the representation agreement with his client.3 The court 22 can decide this matter without oral argument. See Civil L.R. 7-1(b). The court grants the motion.4 23 24 25 26 See Order – ECF No. 26. Citations refer to material in the Electronic Case File (ECF); pinpoint citations are to the ECF-generated page numbers at the top of documents. 1 2 Notice of Award – ECF No. 32-3 at 1–3. 27 3 Motion for Attorney’s Fees – ECF No. 32. 28 4 The court declines the plaintiff’s counsel’s request to apply a 4.08 multiplier. See id. at 4–6. ORDER – No. 18-cv-07126-LB Case 3:18-cv-07126-LB Document 37 Filed 07/19/21 Page 2 of 3 STATEMENT 1 2 The Commissioner awarded the plaintiff $67,664.00 in retroactive Disability Insurance 3 Benefits. In the notice of award, the Commissioner informed the plaintiff that the agency was 4 withholding $16,916.00 — 25 percent of the past-due benefits (what it usually withholds) — to 5 pay his attorney’s fee.5 The plaintiff also has a fee agreement with his lawyer that provides for a 6 25-percent contingency fee of the past-due benefits owed to him.6 The court previously awarded 7 $4,080.39 in attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).7 The plaintiff’s 8 attorney now seeks the $16,916.00 in fees. The Commissioner filed a response to the plaintiff’s motion asking the court to consider the 9 reasonableness of the fee award (including the plaintiffs’ counsel’s hourly rate) and order the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 plaintiff’s counsel to refund the EAJA fees to the plaintiff.8 The plaintiff’s counsel agreed that he 12 will refund the EAJA fees to the plaintiff.9 13 ANALYSIS 14 Under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), “[w]henever a court renders a judgment favorable to a [social 15 16 security] claimant . . . , the court may determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable 17 fee” for the claimant’s counsel, which can be no more than 25 percent of the total of past-due 18 benefits awarded to the claimant. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A). A court may award such a fee even if 19 the court’s judgment did not immediately result in an award of past-due benefits; where the court 20 has rendered a judgment favorable to a claimant by reversing an earlier determination by an ALJ 21 and remanding for further consideration, the court may calculate the 25-percent fee based upon 22 23 24 Notice of Award – ECF No. 32-3 at 5–6; Mot for Attorney’s Fees – ECF No. 32-1 at 3–4 (¶ C.); Commissioner’s Response to Motion – ECF No. 34 at 2. 5 25 6 Fee Agreement – ECF No. 32-4 at 1. 7 Order – ECF No. 31. 27 8 Commissioner’s Response to Motion – ECF No. 34 at 1–5. 28 9 Motion for Attorney’s Fees – ECF No. 32-1 at 2; Reply – ECF No. 35 at 1. 26 ORDER – No. 18-cv-07126-LB 2 Case 3:18-cv-07126-LB Document 37 Filed 07/19/21 Page 3 of 3 1 any past-due benefits awarded on remand. See, e.g., Crawford v. Astrue, 586 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2 2009) (en banc). 3 In considering a motion for attorney’s fees under § 406(b), the court must review counsel’s 4 request “as an independent check” to ensure that the contingency fee agreement “yield[s] 5 reasonable results.” See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002). Section 406(b) “does 6 not displace contingent-fee agreements within the statutory ceiling; instead, § 406(b) instructs 7 courts to review for reasonableness fees yielded by those agreements.” Id. at 808–09. To evaluate 8 the reasonableness of a fee request under § 406(b), the court considers the character of the 9 representation and the results achieved. Id. at 808; see also Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1151. This includes analyzing whether substandard representation justifies awarding less than 25 percent in 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 fees; any delay in the proceedings attributable to the attorney requesting the fee; whether the 12 benefits of the representation are out of proportion to time spent on the case; and the risk counsel 13 assumed by accepting the case. See Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1151–52 (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 14 808). If an attorney “is responsible for delay. . . a reduction [of fees] is in order so that the attorney 15 will not profit from the accumulation of benefits during the pendency of the case in court.” 16 Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808 (cleaned up); see also Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1151. 17 The court must offset an award of § 406(b) attorney’s fees by any award of fees granted under 18 the EAJA. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 796; Parrish v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 698 F.3d 1215, 1218 (9th 19 Cir. 2012). 20 21 The 25-percent contingency-fee agreement is within § 406(b)(1)(A)’s ceiling, and the amount is reasonable. 22 CONCLUSION 23 The court finds that a fee award of $16,916.00 is reasonable under § 406(b). The plaintiff’s 24 counsel must refund the plaintiff the $4,080.39 in EAJA fees, which results in a net fee award of 25 $12,835.61. 26 IT IS SO ORDERED. 27 Dated: July 19, 2021 28 ORDER – No. 18-cv-07126-LB ______________________________________ LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge 3

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