United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES (DOC.
S. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
27, 2019, Plaintiff's counsel, Cyrus Safa, filed a Motion
for Attorney's Fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b).
Doc. 28. Plaintiff Darrin Ronald Beagles was served with the
motion on June 27, 2019. Doc. 28 at 10. In keeping with the
role resembling that of a trustee for Plaintiff, the
Commissioner filed a response to Plaintiff's
counsel's motion, but did not oppose the motion. Doc. 29.
See generally, Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789,
798 n. 6 (2002).
did not file any objections. For the reasons set forth below,
the Motion for Attorney's Fees is GRANTED.
September 22, 2016, Plaintiff brought the underlying action
seeking judicial review of a final administrative decision
denying his claim for disability benefits under the Social
Security Act. Doc. 1. Plaintiff was represented by counsel
pursuant to a contingent fee agreement. Doc. 28-2. On October
25, 2017, pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the Court
ordered the case remanded pursuant to Sentence Four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Doc. 24.
the parties stipulated to attorney's fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) in the amount of
$2820.78. Doc. 27. Plaintiff's attorney now seeks an
award of attorney fees in the amount of $8000.00 pursuant to
42 U.C.S. § 406(b). In support of the motion, counsel
filed evidence indicating that Plaintiff was awarded
approximately $58, 034.00 in retroactive disability benefits.
Doc. 28-4 at 3. Counsel is seeking approximately 13.79 per
cent of the retroactive benefits awarded for attorney's
to the Social Security Act, attorneys may seek a reasonable
fee for cases in which they have successfully represented
social security claimants. Section 406(b) provides
the following in relevant part:
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
... 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 ....
42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A) (emphasis added). “In
contrast to fees awarded under fee-shifting provisions such
as 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the fee is paid by the claimant out
of the past-due benefits awarded; the losing party is not
responsible for payment.” Crawford v. Astrue,
586 F.3d 1142, 1147 (9th Cir.2009) (en banc) (citing
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 789, 802). The Commissioner
has standing to challenge the award, despite the fact that
the Section 406(b) attorney's fee award is not paid by
the government. Craig v. Sec‘y, Dep't of Health
& Human Servs., 864 F.2d 324, 328 (4th Cir.1989),
abrogated on other grounds in Gisbrecht,
535 U.S. at 807. The goal of fee awards under Section 406(b)
is to provide adequate incentive to represent claimants while
ensuring that the usually meager disability benefits received
are not greatly depleted. Cotter v. Bowen, 879 F.2d
359, 365 (8th Cir.1989), abrogated on other grounds
in Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
twenty-five percent (25%) maximum fee is not an automatic
entitlement, and courts are required to ensure that the
requested fee is reasonable. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
808-09. Section 406(b) does not displace contingent-fee
agreements within the statutory ceiling; instead, Section
406(b) instructs courts to review for reasonableness fees
yielded by those agreements. “Within the 25 percent
boundary ... the attorney for the successful claimant must
show that the fee sought is reasonable for the services
rendered.” Id. at 807; see also
Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1148 (holding that Section
406(b) “does not specify how courts should determine
whether a requested fee is reasonable” but
“provides only that the fee must not exceed 25% of the
past-due benefits awarded”).
“a district court charged with determining a reasonable
fee award under § 406(b)(1)(A) must respect ‘the
primacy of lawful attorney-client fee arrangements,' ...
‘looking first to the contingent-fee agreement, then
testing it for reasonableness.' ”
Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1148 (quoting
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 793, 808). The United States
Supreme Court has identified several factors that may be
considered in determining whether a fee award under a
contingent-fee agreement is unreasonable and therefore
subject to reduction by the court: (1) the character of the
representation; (2) the results achieved by the
representative; (3) whether the attorney engaged in dilatory
conduct in order to increase the accrued amount of past-due
benefits; (4) whether the benefits are large in comparison to
the amount of time counsel spent on the case; and (5) the
attorney's record of hours worked and counsel's
regular hourly billing charge for non-contingent cases.
Id. (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807-08).
the fee agreement between Plaintiff and counsel provides that
the fee for successful prosecution in judicial review of an
adverse decision of the Social Security Administration is 25%
of the backpay awarded upon reversal of an unfavorable ALJ
decision. Doc. 28-2. The Court has considered counsel's
representation of Plaintiff and the results achieved.
Plaintiff's counsel indicates that a total of 15.5 hours
was expended litigating Plaintiff's case in the district
court. Doc. 22-3. There is no indication that a reduction of
the award is ...