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Peter J. Pinedo v. Michael J. Astrue

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA SAN JOSE DIVISION


March 2, 2012

PETER J. PINEDO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul S. Grewal United States Magistrate Judge

United States District Court For the Northern District of California

ORDER GRANTING COUNSEL'S UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR AN AWARD OF ATTORNEYS' FEES PURSUANT TO 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) (Re: Docket No. 22)

In this social security appeal, attorney Thomas Beltran ("Beltran"), counsel for Plaintiff Peter J. Pinedo ("Pinedo"), moves for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) in 19 the amount of $9,288.95. Neither Pinedo nor the Government oppose the award. Pursuant to Civ. 20 L.R. 7-1(b), the motion was taken under submission without oral argument and the hearing 21 22 vacated. Having reviewed the papers and considered the arguments of counsel, the court GRANTS

Beltran's motion for an award of attorney's fees. 24 Beltran represented Pinedo during his appeal for childhood disability benefits. Pursuant to 25 an oral agreement with Pinedo's sister, Frances Joan Spiller ("Spiller"), Beltran deposited 26 $9,000.00 that he received from Spiller into an escrow account. Beltran and Spiller agreed that any 27 28 disbursement from the account required approval from some competent authority. Otherwise, the 1 2 parties did not enter into any specific or written fee agreement. Following remand by the district court, the administrative law judge awarded Pinedo $58,778.00 in retroactive benefits. On January 27, 2011, the administrative law judge granted 5 Beltran's fee petition in the amount of $4,419.00 for representing Pinedo in proceedings before the 6 Social Security Administration ("SSA"). The administrative law judge, however, declined to award 7 attorney's fees related to Beltran's representation of Pinedo in district court because he lacked the 8 9 authority to do so. SSA has withheld $14,694.95 or 25 percent of the past-due benefits awarded to Pinedo for attorney's fees. Beltran now moves for an award of attorney's fees totaling $9,288.95, an amount totaling less than 25 percent of past-due benefits. In Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, the Supreme Court held that attorney's fees may be awarded 13 under 42 U.S.C. §406(b).*fn1 The court acts as an independent check on contingent-fee agreements so 14 that reasonable results are achieved.*fn2 The relevant portion of the code section states:

Whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant under this subchapter 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, and the Commissioner of Social Security may, notwithstanding the provisions of section 405(i) of this title, but subject to subsection (d) of this section, certify the amount of such fee for payment to such attorney out of, and not in addition to, the amount of such past-due benefits.*fn3 The court finds that the attorney's fees requested by Beltran are reasonable in light of the total past-21 due benefits awarded and the documentation provided in support of counsel's motion. First, while 22 Beltran, Pinedo or Spiller did not enter into a specific or written fee agreement, Beltran seeks attorney's fees that are less than 25 percent of the total past-due benefits awarded to Pinedo. This 2 amount is below the ceiling set by § 406(b). Beltran notes that he worked 37.50 hours on the case 3 and that his hourly rate is $250.*fn4 Second, the factors identified in Gisbrecht to warrant a reduction 4 of requested fees are reflected in the requested fee amount. Attorney's fees awarded under 42 5 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A) may be reduced from the amount authorized by a contingency fee agreement 6 "based on the character of the representation and the results the representative achieved."*fn5 This 7 includes a consideration of whether counsel's performance was substandard, whether there was 8 excessive delay by counsel which resulted in an undue accumulation of past-due benefits, and 9 whether the requested fees are excessively large in relation to the benefits achieved.*fn6 Here, there is 10 no indication that Beltran's performance was substandard or that there was any undue delay so that past-due benefits could accumulate. Moreover, Beltran reduced his requested fees to less than 25 percent of the total of the past-due benefits. Having reviewed the papers and considered the 13 $4,419.00 administrative fee awarded by the administrative law judge, the court finds that the 14 requested $9,288.95 fee amount is both reasonable under Gisbrecht and below the 25 percent 15 statutory cap.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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