Soptich v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER granting 36 Motion for Attorney Fees. The court awards the Plaintiff attorney fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), in the amount $18,646.00. Signed by Judge William C Lee on 2/23/17. (nal)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
CIVIL NO. 3:15cv109
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the court on a motion for attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b),
filed by the Plaintiff, Charles Soptich, on December 12, 2016. The defendant Commissioner
filed a response on January 18, 2017, indicating no opposition to the motion.
Plaintiff filed claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB – Title II) and Supplemental
Security Income Benefits (SSI – Title XVI) on February 10, 2012. (Dkt. 12 at 148-63) Plaintiff’s
claims were denied on April 2, 2012. Id. at 77-84. Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration on
April 23, 2012, id. at 87, but was denied again on May 29, 2012. Id. at 88-101. Plaintiff
requested an administrative hearing on June 5, 2012. Id. at 102-03. On August 22, 2013, Plaintiff
appeared in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Maryann
Bright of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Id. at 37-72. On October
25, 2013, Judge Bright issued an unfavorable determination. Id. at 20-36.
Plaintiff retained Keller & Keller LLP for representation on December 10, 2013. Plaintiff
agreed that “if any of my claim(s) progress to the U.S. Courts and is then favorably decided, then
my attorney may elect to motion the U.S. Courts to approve a fee of 25 percent of all past due
benefits without limitation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 406(b) . . . .” (Plaintiff’s Exhibit A at
Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council
denied the request on January 16, 2015. Id. at 1-7. Plaintiff then timely filed this civil action on
March 11, 2015. (Dkt. 1) On December 16, 2015, the undersigned, issued an order to reverse and
remand the case for further consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Dkt.
28) On March 29, 2016, Plaintiff’s attorney obtained an order for an award of attorney’s fees
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(a)-(d), from this Court in the
amount of $4,960.00. (Dkt. 31) Plaintiff’s attorney received this payment. After the claim was
reconsidered by the agency, Plaintiff’s claim for disability benefits was approved on September
12, 2016. (Plaintiff’s Exhibit B) Plaintiff has been awarded past-due benefits totaling $74,584.00.
(Plaintiff’s Exhibit C)
The Social Security Act’s provisions governing fees for representation are found in 42
U.S.C. § 406; see Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 794 (2002) (reviewing history of attorney
fees under the Social Security Act). Section 406(a) governs fees for representing claimants in the
administrative process. 406(a). 42 U.S.C. § 406(a). Section 406(b) governs attorney fees for
successful litigation for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act such as Disability
Insurance Benefits, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I), 423, and, pursuant to § 302 of Public Law 108-203, for
litigation for benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act or Supplemental Security
Income, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382, 1382a. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b).
The court must review all fee requests under § 406(b). Congress intended such review not
to override the claimant and counsel’s fee arrangement but rather to act as an “independent
check” to ensure that the arrangement yielded a reasonable result in the particular case.
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807. “Congress has provided one boundary line: Agreements are
unenforceable to the extent that they provide for fees exceeding 25 percent of the past-due
benefits.” Id. Within the 25% boundary, the attorney for the successful claimant must show that
the fee sought is reasonable for the services rendered. Id. In making this determination, the court
may consider the character of the representation and the results obtained, reducing an award if
the attorney is responsible for delay in the proceeding that had the effect of inflating past-due
benefits, or if the fee is so large in comparison to the amount of time counsel spent on the case
that the fee would constitute a windfall to the attorney. Id. at 808.
Plaintiff’s attorney contends, and the Commissioner does not dispute, that the requested
fee of $18,646.00 is reasonable. This amount reflects a valid contract between Plaintiff and his
counsel, the substantial risk associated with this litigation and potential recovery, the results
obtained for the Plaintiff, the time Counsel expended on the matter, and the required refund of
the fee award previously obtained under EAJA.
As noted, Plaintiff contracted with Plaintiff’s attorney to pay 25 percent of past due
benefits without limitation if the undersigned represented him before a federal court and obtained
a favorable outcome. (Plaintiff’s Exhibit A) After this litigation, Plaintiff received as past-due
Title II benefits $74,584.00. (Plaintiff’s Exhibit C) Plaintiff’s attorney therefore requests that the
Court approve an overall award of $18,646.00—or 25 percent of the Plaintiff’s past-due benefits.
This award is within the statutory maximum of 25 percent of past due benefits and in accordance
with what the Plaintiff contracted to pay Counsel.
Also as noted, Counsel obtained an order for an award of attorney’s fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(a)-(d), from this Court in the amount of
$4,960.00. (Dkt. 31) This amount was received by Counsel and Counsel states this amount will
be refunded upon receipt of the 406(b) award.
Accordingly, as Plaintiff’s attorney has followed the terms of his agreement and the
EAJA statute, this court will grant the fee petition.
On the basis of the foregoing, Plaintiff’s motion for an award of attorney fees pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 406(b), in the amount of $18,646.00, is hereby GRANTED.
Entered: February 23, 2017.
s/ William C. Lee
William C. Lee, Judge
United States District Court
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?