Scruggs v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

Filing 27

ORDER granting plaintiff's 23 Motion for Attorney Fees signed by U.S. District Judge John C Coughenour.(RS)

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THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR 1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 7 8 9 JASON SCRUGGS, 10 Plaintiff, CASE NO. C15-5670-JCC ORDER v. 11 NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security 12 13 Defendant. 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) (Dkt. No. 23). Having thoroughly considered the parties’ briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein. Plaintiff’s attorney began representation for backdated Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2011. (Dkt. No. 23-1.) Plaintiff signed a contingency fee agreement where upon achieving a favorable outcome and Plaintiff’s receipt of backdated benefits, Plaintiff’s attorney would receive 25% of the backdated benefits. (Id.) Plaintiff’s attorney secured a favorable judgement for Plaintiff. (See Dkt. No. 19.) Plaintiff’s attorney then moved for, and was awarded, EAJA fees for 16.7 hours of work, totaling $3,199.12. (Dkt. Nos. 20, 21- 26 ORDER PAGE - 1 1 1.) After Plaintiff received his backdated benefits, Plaintiff’s attorney filed this motion for 2 attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1) for $19,106.75. (Dkt. No. 23.) 3 The parties dispute the reasonableness of the fees resulting from the fee agreement. 4 Dividing the fee requested by the hours worked, Defendant argues Plaintiff’s attorney would 5 receive an unreasonable rate of $1,144.12 per hour, which is nearly six times the EAJA rate. 6 (Dkt. No. 25 at 1). Plaintiff’s attorney states that this fee is reasonable because of the nature of 7 the work, previous awards of fees for his practice and by this Court, and the policy underlying 8 § 406(b). 9 Pursuant to § 406(b), a contingency fee agreement is permissible if it awards no more 10 than 25% of the backdated benefits, but the fee must also be reasonable. Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 11 535 U.S. 789, 791 (2002). To determine if a fee is reasonable, the Court must start with the fee 12 agreement and then modify the agreement “if the attorney provided substandard representation or 13 engaged in dilatory conduct in order to increase the accrued amount of past-due benefits, or if the 14 benefits are large in comparison to the amount of time counsel spent on the case.” Crawford v. 15 Astrue, 586 F.3d 1142, 1148 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted). The fee agreement 16 should only be disturbed if there are compelling reasons. See id. at 1149. The Ninth Circuit 17 stated fee agreements providing 25% of past-due benefits have become the “most common fee 18 arrangement between attorneys and Social Security claimants.” Id. 19 This Court previously addressed the issue of attorney fees in the context of a contingency 20 fee agreement in La Plant v. Berryhill, Case No. C14-1143-JCC, Dkt. No. 41 (W.D. Wash. 21 2017). In that case, there was a contingency agreement that resulted in an hourly rate of 22 $1,187.83. See id. This Court considered the existence of a fee agreement, the risk assumed in 23 representation, and other instances of similar fees being granted to the attorney. Id. at 2. The 24 Court found the attorney fees to be reasonable. Id. 25 26 Here, the Court concludes Plaintiff’s attorney fees are reasonable. There is no dispute that the contingency fee agreement is reasonable. Moreover, the work was performed on time, the ORDER PAGE - 2 1 representation was not substandard, and the resulting fee is consistent with attorney fees received 2 in the District of Oregon 1 and in this Court in La Plant. Finally, when reviewing a request for 3 fees under § 406(b), the lodestar method of calculation for a contingency fee agreement is 4 inappropriate because it underappreciates the risk assumed. See Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1149. 5 Therefore, Plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees (Dkt. No. 23) is GRANTED. Plaintiff’s attorney is 6 AWARDED $19,106.75. 7 DATED this 29th day of June 2017. A 8 9 10 John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 1 25 26 Chin v. Colvin, No 3:15-cv-00570-BR (Apr 12, 2017) (awarding $17,280 for an hourly rate of $1,200); Cook v. Colvin, No 3:13-cv-01372-HZ (Feb 7, 2017) (awarding $20,191 for an hourly rate of $1,014.62); Chrestensen v. Colvin, No 3:15-cv-00091-MC (June 22, 2016) (awarding $12,753.25 for an hourly rate of $1,036.84). ORDER PAGE - 3

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