United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES (DOC.
S. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 26, 2019, Plaintiff's counsel, Lawrence D.
Rohlfing, filed a Motion for Attorney's Fees pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1383(d)(2)(B). Doc. 27. Plaintiff Vannesa
Ramirez was served with the motion on August 26, 2019. Doc.
28 at 1-2. 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. 28. See generally, Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 798 n. 6 (2002). Plaintiff did
not file any objections. For the reasons set forth below, the
Motion for Attorney's Fees is GRANTED.
12, 2014, Plaintiff brought a prior action seeking judicial
review of a final administrative decision denying her claim
for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. Vanessa Ramirez v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. (E.D.Cal.) (No. 1:14-cv-00775-SAB), Doc. 1.
Plaintiff was represented by counsel pursuant to a contingent
fee agreement. Id., Doc. 20-2. On March 6, 2015, the
Court denied the appeal in part, granted the appeal in part,
and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further
administrative proceedings. Id., Doc. 18.
Subsequently, the parties stipulated to attorney's fees
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) in
the amount of $4700.00. Id., Doc. 20.
January 26, 2017, Plaintiff brought the above-captioned
action seeking judicial review of a final administrative
decision denying her claim for supplemental security income
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Doc. 1. Plaintiff
was represented by counsel pursuant to a contingent fee
agreement. Doc. 27-1. On January 26, 2018, pursuant to the
parties' stipulation, the Court ordered the case remanded
pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Doc.
23. Subsequently, the parties stipulated to attorney's
fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”) in the amount of $4694.00. Doc. 26.
attorney now seeks an award of attorney fees in the amount of
$12, 310.53 pursuant to 42 U.C.S. § 1383(d)(2)(B). In
support of the motion counsel filed evidence indicating that
Plaintiff was awarded approximately $49, 242.12 in
retroactive disability benefits. Doc. 27-3 at 1. Counsel is
seeking approximately 25 per cent of the retroactive benefits
awarded for attorney's fees.
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
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
rovisions such as 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the fee is paid by
the claimant out of the past-due benefits warded; the losing
party is not responsible for payment.” Crawford v.
Astrue, 586 F.3d 1142, 147 (9th Cir.2009)(en
banc) (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 789, 802).
The Commissioner has tanding to challenge the award, despite
the fact that the Section 406(b) attorney's fee
award is ot 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 wards
under Section 406(b) is to provide adequate
incentive to represent claimants while nsuring 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 07.
twenty-five percent (25%) maximum fee is not an automatic
entitlement, and courts re 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 ee sought is reasonable for the
services rendered.” Id. at 807; see also
Crawford, 586 F.3d at 148(holding that Section
406(b) “does not specify how courts should
determine whether a equested fee is reasonable” but
“provides only that the fee must not exceed 25% of the
past-due enefits 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 irst to the contingent-fee agreement, then
testing it for reasonableness.' ”
Crawford, 586 F.3d at 148(quoting
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 793, 808).The United States
Supreme Court has identified everal 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 ...