United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Sheila Kinzer's
("Plaintiff")'s motion for attorneys' fees
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). (Doc. 42). The Court now
rules on the motion.
April 27, 2009, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
denied Plaintiff's request for social security benefits.
(Doc. 11-3 at 22). The Social Security Appeals Council denied
review of the ALJ's decision on December 20, 2010. (Doc.
1 at 2). After Plaintiff filed an appeal for judicial review
of the ALJ's decision, this Court affirmed the ALJ's
decision. (Doc. 23). On June 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed an
appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit challenging this Court's affirmance of the
ALJ's decision. (Doc. 25). On April 10, 2014, the Ninth
Circuit reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded for
supplemental proceedings. (Doc. 29-1). After additional
proceedings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is disabled.
(Doc. 42-1 at 5-11).
August 4, 2014, Plaintiff moved for attorneys' fees and
costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act
("EAJA"). (Doc. 33). On April 7, 2015, the Court
awarded Plaintiff attorneys' fees and costs in the amount
of $19, 800.57 pursuant to the EAJA. (Doc. 41). On March 7,
2016, Plaintiff filed the pending motion for attorneys'
fees under § 406(b). (Doc. 42).
406(b) provides that whenever the Court renders a favorable
judgment to a social security claimant, the Court can award
reasonable attorneys' fees for representation of the
claimant. § 406(b)(1)(A). The reasonable fee cannot
exceed twenty-five percent of the total past-due benefits
awarded to the claimant. Id. The fee is payable out
of, and not in addition to, the amount of the past-due
benefits. Id. Section 406(b) "does not displace
contingent-fee agreements as the primary means by which fees
are set for successfully representing Social Security
benefits claimants in court. Rather, § 406(b) calls for
court review of such arrangements as an independent check, to
assure that they yield reasonable results in particular
cases." Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789,
807 (2002). To that end, "Congress has provided one
boundary line: Agreements are unenforceable to the extent
that they provide for fees exceeding 25 percent of the
past-due benefits." Id. Therefore, the Court
must ensure the fee is 1) reasonable, and 2) limited to 25
percent of past-due benefits. Id.
the Court must be sure to "respect the primacy of lawful
attorney-client fee agreements." Crawford v.
Astrue, 586 F.3d 1142, 1150 (9th Cir. 2009) (en banc)
(internal quotations omitted). While reviewing this
agreement, the Court must still test the resulting award for
reasonableness. Id. at 1149. In other words,
"the district court must first look to the fee agreement
and then adjust downward if the attorney provided substandard
representation or delayed the case, or if the requested fee
would result in a windfall." Id. at 1151. When
determining reasonableness, the Court should consider the
following non-exhaustive factors: the character of the
representation, the results achieved, performance, delay,
whether the benefits were proportionate to the time spent on
the case, and, as an aid if necessary, the lodestar
and her counsel had a contingent-fee agreement in this case
typical of fee agreements in disability benefit cases.
Specifically, the contingent-fee agreement provides that
attorneys' fees for Federal Court work "will be
equal to the 25% of all past due benefits without regard to
the maximum statutory allowance." (Doc. 42-1 at 2).
Plaintiff was awarded $135, 891.00 in past due benefits.
(Id. at 6). Twenty-five percent of this award is
$33, 972.75. (Id.) Plaintiffs counsel requested the
full twenty-five percent amount, (Doc. 42 at 10), which the
Government does not oppose, (Doc. 43)
the factors outlined in Crawford, the Court finds
the contingent-fee agreement in this case to be reasonable,
and thus, will award Plaintiffs counsel attorneys' fees
in the amount of $33, 972.75 pursuant to § 406(b).
See 586 F.3d at 1151. Because Plaintiff was also
awarded EAJA fees, (Doc. 41), Plaintiffs counsel must refund
the lesser of these two fee awards to Plaintiff, see
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 796.
on the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiffs
Attorney's Motion for an Award of Attorney Fees under 42
U.S.C. § 406(b) (Doc. 42) is GRANTED in the amount of
FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs counsel must refund the
lesser of the EAJA fee award and the ...