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Laputka v. Barnhart

May 8, 2009

LORETTA LAPUTKA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES (DOC. 32)

Plaintiff prevailed in her action, filed on August 25, 2000, in which she sought review of a decision of the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying her benefits. By order filed August 26, 2003, the Court ordered that the matter be remanded pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four, for the purpose of offering Plaintiff a new hearing and decision. Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's counsel's motion for attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), filed on February 11, 2009; Defendant filed a response on March 27, 2009.

On November 12, 2003, pursuant to a stipulated order, the Court awarded Plaintiff attorney's fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) in the amount of $4,200.00. The stipulation and order expressly provided:

This award is without prejudice to the rights of plaintiff's counsel to seek Social Security Act attorney fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 406, subject to the offset provisions of the EAJA (Order p. 2.)

In the response to the motion, Defendant took no position as to whether the requested fee was reasonable but noted various factors to be considered by the Court. Plaintiff did not file a reply.

I. Background

When the case was remanded to the agency, the Commissioner ultimately granted Plaintiff's application, entitling her to receive approximately $125,000.00 in retroactive benefits. (Decl. Haley, Ex. 2.) A sum of $31,205.50 was withheld as twenty-five per cent of the award. (Id., Ex. 3.) Counsel's office had expended twenty-eight hours of attorney time and 4.8 hours of paralegal time before this Court. (Id., ¶ 5.)

The attorney-client representation agreement between Plaintiff and her counsel that was submitted with the motion for fees provides that if the matter required judicial review of any unfavorable decision of an ALJ, the fee for successful prosecution of the matter was twenty-five per cent of the back pay awarded upon reversal of any unfavorable ALJ decision whether by a court, another part of the Social Security Administration, or an ALJ on subsequent hearing. (Haley Decl., Ex. 1, ¶ 4.) It also provided that the client was to pay all costs. (Id. ¶ 5.)

The papers submitted in support of the motion demonstrate that $4,000.00 was paid to Rosemary Abarca, who had previously represented Plaintiff (Haley Decl., Ex. 3); $2,500.00 was paid to the attorney in Alabama who, after this Court's order of remand and Plaintiff's subsequent relocation to Alabama, took the case to an ALJ and won the award (Haley Decl., Ex. 2); and, as previously noted, $4,200.00 was paid pursuant to the EAJA to Haley.

Counsel requests a fee of $17,200 pursuant to a contingency fee contract and an order that Plaintiff be reimbursed in the amount of the $4,200.00 for EAJA fees previously paid.

II. Analysis

A. Legal Standards

With respect to fees awarded under the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) provides:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses, in addition to any costs awarded pursuant to subsection (a), incurred by that party in any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, unless the court finds that the position ...


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