Beatty v. Colvin
ORDER granting 32 Motion for Attorney Fees in the full amount requested of $7,851.00, and counsel shall return to Plaintiff the $4,500.00 in fees previously awarded pursuant to Equal Access to Justice Act. Signed by US Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr. on 10/11/2017. (Grady, B.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
BRUCE LAMART BEATTY,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
This matter is before the court on a motion for attorney's fees filed by Plaintiffs counsel, H.
Clifton Hester, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). [DE-32]. Defendant takes no position on the
motion. [DE-33]. For the reasons that follow, the motion is allowed.
Plaintiff filed a complaint [DE-1] and the case proceeded on motions for judgment on the
pleadings with supporting memoranda of law [DE-21 through -24]. The court allowed Plaintiffs
motion for judgment on the pleadings and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further
proceedings. [DE-27]. The court awarded Plaintiff $4,500.00 in attorney's fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). [DE-31]. On remand, Defendant issued a
favorable decision approving Plaintiffs application for benefits. [DE-32-1] ~ 2. Plaintiffs counsel
now seeks 25% of the past due benefits, or $7,851.00, and proposes to reimburse Plaintiff the
$4,500.00 for the previously awarded EAJA fees. [DE-32-3] at 2.
Under section 406(b), "[w]henever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant ...
who was represented before the court by an attorney, the court may determine and allow as part of
its judgment a reasonable fee for such representation, not in excess of 25% of the total of the pastdue benefits to which the claimant is entitled by reason of such judgment."
42 U.S.C. §
406(b )(1 )(A). The Supreme Court has instructed that "§ 406(b) does not displace contingent-fee
agreements as the primary means by which fees are set for successfully representing Social Security
benefits claimants in court" and the court must review these arrangements "as an independent check,
to assure that they yield reasonable results in a particular case." Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S.
789, 807 (2002). In conducting its review, the court may find a reduction in the contingent fee
appropriate when "(l) the fee is out of line with 'the character of the representation and the results
... achieved,' (2) counsel's delay caused past-due benefits to accumulate 'during the pendency of
the case in court,' or (3) past-due benefits 'are large in comparison to the amount of time counsel
spent on the case."' Muddv. Barnhart, 418 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gisbrecht, 535
U.S. at 808). A "reviewing court should disallow 'windfalls for lawyers,'" Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
808 (quoting Rodriguez v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 739, 747 (6th Cir. 1989)). Factors courts have
considered in determining whether a fee award will result in a "windfall" include "(l) whether the
attorney's efforts were particularly successful for the plaintiff, (2) whether there is evidence of the
effort expended by the attorney demonstrated through pleadings which were not boilerplate and
through arguments which involved both real issues of material fact and required legal research, and
finally, (3) whether the case was handled efficiently due to the attorney's experience in handling
social security cases." Murrellv. Colvin, No. 4:13-CV-124-FL, 2016 WL4287813, at *l (E.D.N.C.
Aug. 15, 2016) (citations omitted).
Applying the framework set forth above, the court finds that the requested attorney's fees are
reasonable. Counsel seeks 25% of the past due disability benefits awarded to Plaintiff, which is no
greater than the statutory ceiling. With respect to the results achieved, through counsel's efforts
Plaintiff won a remand for further proceedings, ultimately resulting in an award of past due benefits.
There is no evidence of delay tactics employed by counsel, and the case was handled efficiently.
Counsel, who is an experienced practitioner in federal court, filed a well-supported motion for
judgment on the pleadings, evidencing thorough research and application of law to the particular
facts of Plaintiffs claim rather than boilerplate recitations, which resulted in a remand. Accordingly,
counsel is awarded $7 ,851.00 and shall return to Plaintiff the $4,500.00 in fees previously awarded
under the EAJ A.
For the reasons stated herein, the motion for attorney's fees [DE-32] is ALLOWED in the
$4,500.00 in fees previously awarded pursuant to EAJA.
SO ORDERED, the _l_I_day of October 2017.
Robert B. Jones, Jr.
United States Magistrate Judge
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