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Shepard v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 29, 2016

ROBERT LEO SHEPARD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES UNDER 42 U.S.C. § 406(B) (DOC. 29)

          SANDRA M. SNYDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On July 25, 2014, Plaintiff, by and through his attorney, Jacqueline A. Forslund, filed a complaint challenging the denial of his disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Doc. 1. On December 30, 2015, the Court issued an order remanding the action for calculation of benefits. Doc. 25. Thereafter, the parties stipulated to an award of attorney’s fees totaling $6, 500 under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which the Court approved. Doc. 28.

         Before the Court now is Plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), by which Ms. Forslund requests fees for time expended in this case. Doc. 29. The Commissioner responded. Doc. 31. No hearing was held as the Court found the motion suitable for decision without oral argument. Local Rule 230(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because the parties are sufficiently familiar with the factual and procedural history of this case, the Court will not recount it in detail here, discussing only what is relevant for purposes of this order.

         Relevant to the motion here is the contingency agreement between Plaintiff and the Dellert Baird Law Offices, PLLC, through which Ms. Forslund is associated. Plaintiff signed the agreement on July 22, 2014, whereby he authorized Dellert Baird to seek fees from his “past due benefits totaling up to 25% of all past due benefits” under section 406(b) if he is awarded benefits by the Court or the Social Security Administration (SSA) after remand for further proceedings. Doc. 29-1.

         In the motion, Ms. Forslund requests a fee of $17, 125.00 for 37.8 hours expended in this case before the Court. She contends the fees requested are reasonable and based on an enforceable contingency fee agreement. She asserts that, at a minimum, Plaintiff received standard representation, no excessive delay resulted, and the fees requested are not a windfall. Ms. Forslund submitted for the Court’s review the following:

(1) the contingency agreement between Plaintiff and Dellert Baird;
(2) the SSA’s Notice of Award letter to Plaintiff, dated May 3, 2016, informing him that $24, 798.00, a fee no larger than 25% of past due benefits, is withheld for attorney’s fees; and
(3) an itemized statement of the time she expended on this case before the Court, showing hours totaling 37.8.

Doc. 29-3.

         Without taking a formal position, the Commissioner only directs the Court’s attention to the “effective hourly rate, ” which she calculates to be $656.03 per hour using the amount the SSA is withholding for attorney’s fees ($24, 798.00 ÷ 37.8).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Section 406(b) provides, ...


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