Blaylock v. Social Security Administration et al
ORDER: Plaintiff's Motion for § 406(b) fees is GRANTED. The Social Security Administration is ORDERED to release $7,500 of the withheld funds from Plaintiffs back-pay award to Plaintiff's counsel. The Social Security Administra tion is further ORDERED to release any remaining portion of the withheld funds from Plaintiffs back-pay award to Plaintiff. Signed by Chief Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr on 10/12/2017. (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(ab)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
SARA LEA BLAYLOCK,
CHIEF JUDGE CRENSHAW
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b).
Plaintiff’s attorney requests that $7,500 to be approved as a reasonable fee award, and requests
Defendant release that amount to Plaintiff’s attorney. For the following reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion
On January 3, 2014, the Honorable John T. Nixon reversed the final decision of the
Commissioner and remanded for further proceedings. (Doc. No. 13.) Subsequently, Judge Nixon
granted Plaintiff $2,370.80 in Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) attorney’s fees. (Doc. No.
19.) The United States Department of the Treasury applied Plaintiff’s EAJA award to her child
support debt, and her attorney did not receive any of that award. (Doc. No. 21-3.)
Upon remand, the Commissioner determined that Plaintiff was entitled to social security
benefits. (Doc. No. 21-4.) Plaintiff’s attorney avers that the Social Security Administration
withheld $17,802.00 from Plaintiff’s past due benefits, and that Plaintiff’s attorney requested and
received $10,000.00 of that for her work at the administrative level from the Commissioner. (Doc.
No. 21.) She now requests an additional $7,500.00 for her 15.8 hours of work at the district court
level, constituting a rate of $474.68 per hour, with the remaining $302.00 be released to Plaintiff.
(Id.) This is slightly less the fee agreement Plaintiff entered into with her counsel for 25% of pastdue benefits, in the event her case is won.
“When a district court renders a favorable judgment to a social security claimant, § 406(b)
permits a district court to award ‘a reasonable [attorney’s] fee . . . not in excess of 25 percent,”
payable “out of . . . [the claimant’s] past-due benefits.” Lasley v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 771 F.3d
308, 309 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A)). The Court must review contingency
agreements “as an independent check, to assure that they yield reasonable results in particular
cases.” Id. (quoting Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 n.6 (2002)). Contingency fee agreements
that comply with § 406(b)’s 25 percent cap are “per se reasonable” so long as the hypothetical
hourly rate is “less than twice the standard rate.” Id. (quoting Hayes v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 923 F.2d 418, 421 (6th Cir. 1991)).
Here, there is a contingency fee agreement for 25 percent of the claimant’s back-pay award,
and Plaintiff’s attorney is seeking an award of less than 25 percent. The hourly rate of $474.68 is
“less than twice the standard rate,” making it “per se reasonable.” After review, and without
objection by the Commissioner, the Court approves the award of $7,500.00 to Plaintiff’s attorney.
Generally, when, as here, an attorney receives awards under both the EAJA and § 406(b),
the attorney shall refund the lesser fee award to her client. Jankovich v. Bowen, 868 F.2d 867, 871
n.1 (6th Cir. 1989). However, when the claimant’s EAJA award is applied to her outstanding debt,
there is no for the attorney to refund any of the § 406(b) award to her client. Figard v. Comm’r of
Social Sec., No. 1:09-cv-425, 2012 WL 1601300, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 12, 2012) (Brenneman,
J.). As such, the Court will not reduce the award by the amount to Plaintiff’s counsel by the amount
of the EAJA award.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for § 406(b) fees is GRANTED. The Social
Security Administration is ORDERED to release $7,500 of the withheld funds from Plaintiff’s
back-pay award to Plaintiff’s counsel. The Social Security Administration is further ORDERED
to release any remaining portion of the withheld funds from Plaintiff’s back-pay award to Plaintiff.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR.
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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