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Kartman v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 7, 2015

MICHAEL KARTMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

AMENDED[1] RECOMMENDED DECISION ON APPLICATION FOR ATTORNEY FEES

JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.

Pursuant to section 206 of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 406, counsel for Plaintiff Michael Kartman requests an award of attorney fees and expenses. Counsel maintains that he is entitled to the requested relief based on Plaintiff's success in administrative proceedings before the Administrative Law Judge following a prior remand under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and based on a contingent fee agreement with Plaintiff authorizing counsel to recover twenty-five percent of past due benefits awarded through counsel's efforts. (Pl.'s Amended Motion for Award of § 406(b) Fees and Costs, ECF No. 23.) Defendant does not oppose the motion. (Response, ECF No. 24.) As explained below, the recommendation is that the Court grant the motion.

BACKGROUND

On April 19, 2012, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) (EAJA), following a judgment remanding the case to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court awarded Plaintiff attorney fees and costs in the amount of $690.13, (Order, ECF No. 17.)

On remand, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was disabled and awarded Plaintiff disability benefits. Plaintiff's two dependents also received an award of past due benefits. According to Defendant, the past due benefits awarded to Plaintiff and his two dependents totaled $33, 390. However, the sum of the past due awards identified by Defendant ($28, 382, $2604, and $2604) is in fact $33, 590. (Response at 2 n.3.) During the course of administrative proceedings, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(a), Defendant separately awarded counsel fees of $4820.78. (Motion at 3; Response at 2 n.3.)

Under the contingent fee agreement between Plaintiff and his counsel, subject to court approval, Plaintiff was required to pay counsel a fee equal to twenty-five percent of the total of any past due benefits awarded to Plaintiff, which benefits included any dependent's benefits. (Contingent Fee Agreement, ¶ 3.A, ECF No. 23-2.) In the event that Plaintiff did not receive an award of benefits, counsel's compensation would be as authorized by the EAJA for a remand.[2] ( Id. ¶¶ 2.H, 3.B, 4.C.)

The itemization attached to counsel's motion reflects that counsel and a paralegal devoted 3.35 hours and 1.05 hours of time, respectively, toward obtaining the Court's 2012 judgment of remand. (Itemization, ECF No. 23-3.) Counsel specializes in disability cases and has over 30 years of experience. (Aff. of Francis Jackson ¶ 5, ECF No. 15-2.) Counsel maintains that given his experience, an hourly fee rate of more than $300 would not have been unreasonable for counsel's services in 2012.[3]

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

The Social Security Act provides, 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. In case of any such judgment, no other fee may be payable or certified for payment for such representation except as provided in this paragraph.

42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(a).

"In Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002), the Supreme Court was explicit that contingent fees up to a maximum of 25% are permitted, not disfavored, in social security cases." Siraco v. Astrue, 806 F.Supp.2d 272, 274 (D. Me. 2011). The contingent fee is the "primary means" of measuring an appropriate fee award. Id. (quoting Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807). A lawyer must demonstrate that a particular award is reasonable for the services rendered. Id. Factors that would support a downward adjustment from the twenty-five percent contingent fee benchmark include issues with the character of the representation or ...


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