United States District Court, E.D. California
ALLISON CLAIRE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
sought judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”),
denying her application supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”). ECF No. 1. On May 17,
2018, plaintiff filed her motion for summary judgment. ECF
No. 14. On June 18, 2018, defendant filed a stipulation for
voluntary remand. ECF No. 15. The stipulation was signed, and
judgment entered, on June 19, 2017. ECF Nos. 16, 17.
pending before the court is plaintiff's October 29, 2019
motion for an award of attorney's fees pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 406(b). ECF No. 20. On November 18, 2019,
defendant filed a response asserting that defendant “is
not in a position to either assent or object” to the
fee request. ECF No. 21 at 2. However, defendant urged the
court to consider whether defendant's requested fee
award, which represents 25% of plaintiff's past due
benefits and which in this case would amount to the
equivalent of an hourly rate of $1, 162.79, would constitute
an unjust windfall for plaintiff's counsel. Id.
at 4. Plaintiff did not file any objection to the fee
request. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be
REASONABLENESS OF FEE REQUEST
outset of the representation, plaintiff and her counsel
entered into a contingent-fee agreement. ECF No. 20-1.
Pursuant to that agreement, plaintiff's counsel now seeks
attorney's fees in the amount of $20, 000.00 which
represents just under 25% of the $85, 179.28 in retroactive
disability benefits received by plaintiff on remand, for 21.1
hours of attorney time expended on this matter, minus a
credit of $3, 700 for the EAJA fees previously paid. ECF No.
20 at 1, 3. Attorneys are entitled to fees for cases in which
they have successfully represented social security claimants:
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). “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 v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 802 (2002)).
The goal of fee awards under § 406(b) is
“‘to protect claimants against
“inordinately large fees” and also to ensure that
attorneys representing successful claimants would not risk
“nonpayment of [appropriate] fees.”'”
Parrish v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 698 F.3d
1215, 1217 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Gisbrecht, 535
U.S. at 805).
statutory maximum fee is not an automatic entitlement, and
the court must ensure that the fee requested is reasonable.
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808-09 (“406(b) does
not displace contingent-fee agreements within the statutory
ceiling; instead, § 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. “[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 1149 (quoting
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 793, 808).
determining whether the requested fee is reasonable, the
court considers “‘the character of the
representation and the results achieved by the
representative.'” Crawford, 586 F.3d at
1151 (quoting Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808). In
determining whether a reduction in the fee is warranted, the
court considers whether the attorney provided
“substandard representation or delayed the case,
” or obtained “benefits that are not in
proportion to the time spent on the case.” Id.
Finally, the court considers the attorney's record of
hours worked and counsel's regular hourly billing charge
for non-contingent cases. Crawford, 586 F.3d at
1151-52 (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808); see
also, E.D. Cal. R. 293(c)(1) (in fixing attorney's
fees the court considers “the time and labor
required”). Below, the court will consider these
factors in assessing whether the fee requested by counsel in
this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) is reasonable.
plaintiff's counsel is an secured a very successful
result for plaintiff, achieving a stipulated remand early in
the case. ECF No. 16. There is no indication that a reduction
of fees is warranted due to any substandard performance by
counsel. There is also no evidence that plaintiff's
counsel engaged in any dilatory conduct resulting in
court acknowledges that the requested fee is substantial when
calculated as an hourly rate. However, reducing fee awards to
hourly rates can sometimes be misleading and give the
impression of a windfall where in fact, counsel's work
was simply efficient. See Kazanjian v. Astrue, No.
09 CIV. 3678 BMC, 2011 WL 2847439, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 15,
2011) (awarding fees amounting to a $2, 100 hourly rate and
explaining that “If plaintiff's attorney had been
less than extraordinarily efficient, his imputed hourly rate
would obviously be significantly reduced. Plaintiff's
attorney should not, however, be penalized for being
efficient, which is exactly what I would be doing if I cut
his requested fee.”) Here, defendant acknowledges that
plaintiff's counsel flagged this case early-on for
potential voluntary remand, albeit for different reasons than
those upon which remand was ultimately agreed. ECF No. 21 at
4. Plaintiff's counsel drafted a motion for summary
judgment which was succinct and apparently persuasive in
achieving voluntary remand. ECF No. 14. Additionally, in the
request for fees, plaintiff's counsel included a letter
sent to plaintiff instructing plaintiff on her opportunity to
object to the fee request, providing postage paid envelopes,
and offering to file any objections plaintiff wished to enter
on her behalf. ECF No. 20 at 1-2. No. objections from
plaintiff were filed. Based on counsel's result obtained,
and counsel's efficient work on this case, the court does
not find the requested fee to be a windfall.
court finds that the $20, 000 contingent fee, which
represents just under 25% of the $85, 179.28 in past-due
benefits paid to plaintiff, is not excessive in relation to
the benefits awarded. In making this determination, the court
recognizes the contingent fee nature of this case and
counsel's assumption of the risk of going uncompensated
in agreeing to represent plaintiff on such terms. See
Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1152 (“[t]he attorneys
assumed significant risk in accepting these cases, including
the risk that no benefits would be awarded or that there
would be a long court or administrative delay in resolving
the cases”). Finally, counsel has submitted a detailed
billing statement in support of the requested fee. ECF No.
for the reasons stated above, the court concludes that the
fees sought by counsel pursuant ...