United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Ocala Division
MICHAEL J. CRONIN, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.
R. LAMMENS United States Magistrate Judge.
the Court is Plaintiff's Unopposed Motion for Attorney
Fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) in the amount of $42,
225.47. (Doc. 31). As set forth below, the motion is due to
case has been around awhile-Plaintiff filed his initial claim
for disability benefits twenty years ago to the day and the
operative claim here was filed almost fifteen years ago.
(Doc. 11 pp.56-58, 419-21). Plaintiff's memorandum in
opposition to the Commissioner's underlying decision
describes the procedural history well. (Doc. 19 pp.2-3).
Although I will not outline this case's legacy in detail,
I do note that in addition to the instant action,
Plaintiff's counsel, Shea A. Fugate, has represented him,
successfully, in two previous federal actions during the time
that his disability claims have worked their way to
culminating here. See Cronin v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 5:06-cv-00071-WTH-GRJ at Doc. 12 (M.D. Fla. Jan.
10, 2007) (granting the Commissioner's motion for
voluntary remand); Cronin v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 6:10-cv-01765-DAB at Doc. 22 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 11,
2012) (reversing and remanding the Commissioner's
decision under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
event, moving on to the present matter, on April 16, 2015, I
entered an order pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) reversing and remanding this case to the Social
Security Administration for further proceedings. (Doc. 23).
Judgment was entered accordingly. (Doc. 24). I also entered
an order awarding attorney's fees to Ms. Fugate, under
the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) in the
sum of $4, 477.78. (Doc. 29).
that remand, Plaintiff was ultimately awarded past-due
benefits in the amount of $247, 222. (Doc. 31-2). The
Commissioner withheld in escrow twenty-five percent of the
award of past-due benefits to secure payment of
attorney's fees, of which $6, 000 was paid to Ms. Fugate
for her work at the administrative level. (Docs. 31 p.3;
31-2). Ms. Fugate now seeks twenty-five percent of
Plaintiff's past-due benefits and has filed a copy of her
contingent fee agreement with Plaintiff to support this
request. (Docs. 31; 31-1). After deducting the award Ms.
Fugate received for her work at the administrative level ($6,
000) and her previously received EAJA fees ($13, 580.03 in
total), she now requests $42, 225.47 in fees (25% of $247,
222 is $61, 805.50, minus $6, 000 and $13, 580.03 is $42,
225.47). According to Ms. Fugate, the Commissioner has no
objection to her request (Doc. 31 p.8), which she represents
was timely filed (Doc. 31 p.6).
42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1), an attorney, as here, who
successfully represents a Social Security claimant in court
may be awarded as part of the judgment “a reasonable
fee for such representation, not in excess of 25 percent of
the total of the past-due benefits” awarded to the
claimant. The fee is payable “out of, and not in
addition to, the amount of [the] past-due benefits.” 42
U.S.C. § 406(b)(1). As required by Gisbrecht v.
Barnhardt, 535 U.S. 789, 808 (2002)-the Supreme
Court's pronouncement concerning the award of 406(b)
fees-courts should approach contingent-fee determinations by
first looking to the agreement between the attorney and the
client, and then testing that agreement for reasonableness.
“A contingent-fee agreement is not per se reasonable.
Deference should be given, however, to the ‘freely
negotiated expression both of a claimant's willingness to
pay more than a particular hourly rate”' along with
“‘an attorney's willingness to take the case
despite the risk of nonpayment.”' Joslyn v.
Barnhart, 389 F.Supp.2d 454, 456 (W.D. N.Y. 2005)
(quoting Wells v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 367, 371 (2d
such, when a court is called upon to assess the
reasonableness of the award, “a court should balance
the interest in protecting claimants from inordinately large
fees against the interest in ensuring that attorneys are
adequately compensated so that they continue to represent
clients in disability benefits cases.” Id.
(citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 805). In making this
reasonableness determination, the Supreme Court highlighted
several important factors including: (1) whether the
requested fee is out of line with the “character of the
representation and the results the representation
achieved;” (2) whether the attorney unreasonably
delayed the proceedings in an attempt to increase the
accumulation of benefits and thereby increase his own fee;
and (3) whether “the benefits awarded are large in
comparison to the amount of time counsel spent on the case,
” the so-called “windfall” factor.
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808. Finally, the Court may
also consider the hours expended by counsel and his or her
normally hourly rate, but “this data does not control
the Court's determination of the requested fee's
overall reasonableness.” Yarnevic v. Apfel,
359 F.Supp.2d 1363, 1363 (N.D.Ga. 2005).
Court finds here that the requested attorney's fees are
reasonable. The requested fee will not result in a windfall
for counsel-i.e., that counsel is receiving compensation she
is not entitled to and that payment of the compensation would
be unfair or detrimental to Plaintiff. In this regard, Ms.
Fugate has submitted a signed fee agreement in which
Plaintiff acknowledged that counsel would receive twenty-five
percent of all past due benefits awarded on appeal. (Doc.
32-1). Moreover, Ms. Fugate has submitted records showing
that she spent more than seventy-seven hours on this case
obtaining no less than three remands in this Court. (Doc.
31-2). The Court is satisfied that this fee award is
reasonable in comparison to the amount of time and effort
Plaintiffs counsel expended on this case and given the risks
of contingent litigation. See, e.g., Vilkas v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec, 2:03-cv-687-FTM-29DNF, 2007 WL 1498115
(M.D. Fla. May 14, 2007) (approving fees translating to an
hourly rate of $1, 121.86).
for these reasons, the Motion (Doc. 31) for Attorney's
Fees Under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) is GRANTED. Section
406(b)(1) fees are approved for Plaintiff's counsel, Shea
A. Fugate, in the sum of $42, 225.47 to be paid out of the
Plaintiffs past due benefits currently being withheld by the
Social Security Administration.