Taylor v. Astrue
ORDER granting with modifications 20 Motion for Attorney Fees. The Court awards the Plaintiff's counsel fees and expenses in the amount of $10,000.00. Signed by Magistrate Judge David Keesler on 12/17/15. (clc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:12-CV-709-MOC-DCK
ROBERT W. TAYLOR,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff’s counsel’s “Amended Motion
For Attorney’s Fees Pursuant To 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)” (Document No. 20) filed on July 2, 2015.
This motion has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b),
and immediate review is appropriate.
Having carefully considered the motion, the record, and
applicable authority, the undersigned will grant the motion, with modification.
By the instant motion, Plaintiff’s counsel renews his request for an award of attorney fees
under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), which provides that a “court may determine
and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee . . . not in excess of 25 percent of the total of the
past due benefits to which claimant is entitled by reason of such judgment.”
Here, the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) determined that Plaintiff’s past due benefits are $75,886.00 for
October 2007 through January 2015. (Document No. 17, p.2;
Document No. 17-1, p.4). The
SSA has withheld $18,971.50, 25 percent of the total past due benefits, to pay Plaintiff’s
Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on February 14, 2013. Pursuant to Rule
25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Carolyn W. Colvin should be substituted for Michael J. Astrue as
Defendant in this suit.
representative. (Document No. 17-1, p.4).
Plaintiff’s counsel has already recovered $6,000.00.
(Document No. 17, p.3). Plaintiff’s counsel now requests the remaining of $12,971.50 of the
$18,971.50 withheld for fees for work performed before this Court. Id.
(Document No. 17,
The undersigned notes that Plaintiff’s “Motion For Fees Under The Equal Access To
Justice Act 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A)” (Document No. 13) sought, and obtained, attorney’s fees
in the amount of $4,871.35. (Document No. 15). Plaintiff based that amount “upon the CPI
adjusted rate of $180.50 per hour for 26.05 hours of attorney work performed.”
13-2, p.1). Plaintiff’s counsel now asserts that the $4,871.35 EAJA award was “seized by the US
Department of the Treasury in payment of an outstanding debt owed by Plaintiff.”
No. 21, pp.2-3) (citing Document No. 21-2).
The Court recognizes that Plaintiff’s “Fee Agreement - Federal Court” (Document No. 172;
Document No. 21-3) allows for Plaintiff’s counsel to receive 25% of past-due benefits, as well
as “attorney’s reasonable expenses,” and that the original motion and the instant motion are
See (Document Nos. 18 and 20).
However, the undersigned continues to be
unconvinced that Plaintiffs motions adequately show that “a reasonable fee” in this case is
$18,971.50 for 26.05 hours of work.
Such an award would be equivalent to an hourly rate of
$728.27, nearly double counsel’s non-contingent hourly rate of $400 per hour.
Moreover, as explained in the prior “Order,” the undersigned is concerned that the
itemization of hours previously filed is inaccurate.
and Document No. 19, p.2).
See (Document No. 13-2; Document No. 21-
Despite the Court’s specific identification of work that does not
appear to fit the time allotted by counsel, Plaintiff’s counsel declined to address those concerns in
his renewed motion, or amend his itemization of work on this case.
(Document No. 21;
Document No. 21-4).
Instead, Plaintiff noted his “extensive education, experience, and
specialized knowledge of Social Security Disability law.”
(Document No. 21, pp.4-5).
The undersigned is well-aware that Plaintiff’s counsel has a wealth of experience in this
area of practice. In fact, Plaintiff’s experience before this Court, as well as his service on various
related boards and committees, tend to support the Court’s finding that time allotted to certain
work in this case is not reasonable.
It does not appear, and Plaintiff’s counsel has not suggested,
that this was a particularly difficult case. “Plaintiff’s Memorandum In Support Of Motion For
Summary Judgment” (Document No. 10) identifies one issue – whether the ALJ failed to ask a
proper hypothetical question. Twenty days later, Defendant filed its “Motion For Reversal And
Remand…” (Document No. 11).
As previously noted, recent case law provides that a court should review contingent-fee
agreements, such as the one here, for reasonableness.
Griffin v. Astrue, 1:10-CV-115-MR, 2012
WL 3155578, at *2 (W.D.N.C. August 2, 2012) (citing Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002)
and Mudd v. Barnhart, 418 F.3d 424 (4th Cir. 2005)). Another fairly recent decision within this
Circuit also holds that the “attorney for the successful claimant bears the burden of showing the
Court ‘that the fee sought is reasonable for the service rendered.’”
West v. Astrue, 2008 WL
1927308 at *1 (N.D.W.Va. April 29, 2008) (quoting Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807).
Plaintiff’s counsel has acknowledged that “there is no presumption that the attorney fee
requested pursuant to a contingent-fee contract is reasonable . . . [i]nstead the attorney seeking a §
406(b) fee must demonstrate that the requested fee is reasonable.”
(Document No. 21, p.3).
also, Redden v. Celebreeze, 370 F.2d 373, 376 (4th Cir. 1966) (“Routine approval of the statutory
maximum allowable fee should be avoided in all cases”).
After two attempts, the undersigned is
not persuaded that counsel has demonstrated that the requested fee is reasonable.
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned has determined that a downward adjustment is
appropriate here and that a reasonable fee, that still recognizes the risks inherent in this type of
representation, is an award of $10,000.00.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Plaintiff counsel’s “Amended Motion For
Attorney’s Fees Pursuant To 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)” (Document No. 20) is GRANTED, with
The Court awards Plaintiff’s counsel fees and expenses in the amount of
Signed: December 17, 2015
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?