Mobley v. ASTRUE
ORDER granting 19 Motion for Attorney Fees. The Commissioner is ordered to pay to Charles L. Martin, the net amount of $5,548.18 out of Plaintiff's past-due back benefits.Ordered by U.S. District Judge W LOUIS SANDS on 3/31/14 (wks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of
CASE NO.: 1:12-CV-64 (WLS)
On July 30, 2012, this Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration and remanded the above-captioned case to the
Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 13.) On October
24, 2012, Plaintiff moved for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”) in connection with his social security appeal and remand. (Docs. 15.) Based
on Plaintiff’s Motion and the Commissioner’s assertion that she did not oppose the
Motion (Doc. 16), the Court granted Plaintiff’s Motion for attorney’s fees in the amount
of $1,487.82, and entered Judgment in favor of Plaintiff. (Docs. 17, 18.)
Plaintiff’s instant Motion for Attorney’s Fees under the Social Security Act (Doc.
19) requests attorney’s fees in the amount of $7,036.00 under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b).
Plaintiff’s attorney also acknowledges that he must refund to Plaintiff the previous
EAJA fee award of $1,487.82. The amount requested is 25% of Plaintiff’s past due
benefits, less administrative fees of $3,173.50.
Defendant objects to the requested attorney’s fees because that “amount
represents a windfall.” (Doc. 20 at 1.) Defendant asserts that $7,036.00 is excessive in
light of the fact that Plaintiff’s counsel spent only 8.05 hours representing Plaintiff. (Id.
“The agency requested a voluntary remand before Plaintiff’s counsel began
working on the brief.” (Id.) Defendant requests that the Court decrease the amount of
fees to Plaintiff’s counsel, but does not suggest an amount. (See id. at 3.)
In his Reply, Plaintiff’s counsel states that the actual fee he will receive is
$5,548.18 because $1,487.82 will be refunded. (Doc. 21 at 1.) Plaintiff argues that
Defendant’s position falls short because she failed to consider the intent of the parties
and the risk of non-payment. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant’s criticism
is essentially an argument that the fee, as viewed from the perspective of a calculation
using the lodestar method, is unreasonable without regard to the relevant case law. (Id.
In Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002), the United States Supreme Court held
that contingency fee agreements, such as the one in this case, are permissible so long as
the fee does not exceed 25% of Plaintiff’s back benefits, subject to “court review of such
arrangements as an independent check, to assure that they yield reasonable results in
particular cases.” Id. at 807; see 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). Issues to consider when assessing
reasonableness include, for example, whether the attorney's work was substandard,
whether the attorney was responsible for any delays (and would thereby profit from the
accumulation of additional back benefits during the delay), or whether the benefits are
large in comparison to the amount of time counsel spent on the case. Id. at 808.
In this case, Plaintiff’s counsel requests a total of $7,036.00, which is 17.2% of
Plaintiff’s back benefits. Although that fee amounts to approximately $874 per hour,
the Court is guided by Gisbrecht’s reminder that “courts are not to rely exclusively on
the lodestar method.” See Jeter v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 371, 380 (5th Cir. 2010). There is no
evidence that counsel’s performance was substandard. By reducing the amount of
attorney’s fees because Defendant voluntarily remanded the case would be effectively
punishing Plaintiff’s counsel for something beyond his control. Plaintiff’s counsel and
Plaintiff entered into the contingent fee agreement voluntarily, and Plaintiff’s counsel
took the risk that the effort he expended on this case—and thus could not expend on
other cases—could be wasted effort. “[W]e do not read Gisbrecht’s ‘windfall’ as support
for the proposition that experienced, competent counsel should be punished for
accomplishing an arduous task in a shorter span of time than less-experienced, lessaggressive counsel.” Jeter, 622 F.3d at 380-81.
Because there is no indication that
Plaintiff’s counsel is receiving a windfall or that his performance was substandard,
Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees Under the Social Security Act (Doc. 19) is
GRANTED. The Court finds that a reasonable attorney fee for Plaintiff’s counsel,
Charles L. Martin, for representation of Plaintiff in this Court is $7,036.00. Because
Plaintiff’s counsel was previously awarded $1,487.82 in fees and counsel acknowledges
that those fees are to be refunded to Plaintiff, the Commissioner is ordered to pay to
Charles L. Martin the net amount of $5,548.18 out of Plaintiff’s past-due back benefits.
See Jackson v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 601 F.3d 1268, 1274 (11th Cir.2010).
SO ORDERED, this 31st day of March 2014.
/s/ W. Louis Sands
W. LOUIS SANDS, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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