Taylor v. Colvin
ORDER granting 17 Motion for Attorney Fees. Signed by District Judge Martin Reidinger on 04/11/18. (emw)
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
CIVIL CASE NO. 1:15-cv-00021-MR
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney
Fees under §406(b) of the Social Security Act [Doc. 17].
On February 3, 2015, the Plaintiff initiated this action seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny her application for benefits
under the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. On August 19, 2015, this Court
reversed the Commissioner's decision denying the Plaintiff's application for
benefits and remanded the case to the Appeals Council for further
administrative action. [Docs. 13, 14]. On September 28, 2015, the Court
awarded the Plaintiff attorney’s fees in the amount of $4,300.00 in full
satisfaction of any and all claims by the Plaintiff pursuant to the Equal Access
to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) (EAJA). [Doc. 16].
On January 24, 2018, the Commissioner issued a Notice of Award
awarding past due benefits to the Plaintiff. [Doc. 17-1]. The Notice of Award
also explains that $12,276.25, representing 25% of the Plaintiff’s back
benefits, was being withheld from the Plaintiff’s back benefits to pay any
award of attorney’s fees. [Id. at 3]. The Plaintiff and her attorney had a
contingency fee agreement pursuant to which any attorney’s fee award could
not exceed 25% of the past due benefits. [Doc. 15-2].
The Plaintiff now seeks an award of $6,276.25 in fees pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 406(b)(1), with the additional stipulation that upon receipt of such
payment, she will refund to the Plaintiff the $4,300.00 previously awarded
under the EAJA. [Doc. 17]. The Defendant takes no position regarding the
Plaintiff’s fee request. [Doc. 18].
There are two avenues by which a Social Security benefits claimant
may be awarded attorney’s fees. First, a claimant may seek a fee award
under the EAJA, which provides that “a court shall award to a prevailing party
other than the United States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that
party in any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort), including
proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the
United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action....” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A). Second, a claimant may seek an award pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b), which provides that “[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 percent of the
total of the past-due benefits to which the claimant is entitled by reason of
such judgment....” 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A).
While attorney's fees may be awarded under both the EAJA and §
406(b), the Social Security Act requires that the attorney must refund to the
claimant the smaller fee. “Thus, an EAJA award offsets an award under
Section 406(b), so that the amount of the total past-due benefits the claimant
actually receives will be increased by the EAJA award up to the point the
claimant receives 100 percent of the past-due benefits.” Stephens ex rel.
R.E. v. Astrue, 565 F.3d 131, 134-35 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002)).
Here, the Plaintiff and her counsel entered into a contingency fee
agreement by which the Plaintiff agreed to pay 25% of any past due benefits
awarded to his counsel. As the Fourth Circuit has recognized, “§ 406(b) was
designed to control, not to displace, fee agreements between Social Security
benefits claimants and their counsel. As long as the agreement does not call
for a fee above the statutory ceiling of twenty-five percent of awarded pastdue benefits, . . . § 406(b) simply instructs a court to review the agreement
for reasonableness.” Mudd v. Barnhart, 418 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir. 2005)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court finds that the services rendered in this Court were
appropriate and reasonable to the relief sought, and that the contingency fee
agreement executed by the Plaintiff and her counsel is reasonable.
Accordingly, the Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney Fees is granted.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that the Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney
Fees [Doc. 17] is hereby GRANTED, and an award of attorney’s fees in the
amount of Six Thousand Two Hundred Seventy-Six Dollars and Twenty-Five
Cents ($6,276.25) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A) is hereby approved.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that upon receipt of the § 406(b) fees,
Plaintiff’s counsel is hereby instructed to return to the Plaintiff the sum of
$4,300.00, representing the fee that counsel previously received pursuant to
the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a copy of this Order be provided to
the Social Security Administration in order to effectuate payment of the
award from past due benefits which have been withheld for such purpose.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed: April 11, 2018
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