United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Ocala Division
MICHAEL N. KATROS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.
R. LAMMENS United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on the motion of Plaintiff's
counsel, Richard A. Culbertson, for authorization to charge a
reasonable fee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §406(b) in the
amount of $16, 361.67. (Doc. 23). In support of the motion,
Mr. Culbertson has filed a signed fee agreement in which
Plaintiff acknowledges a 25% fee award of past due benefits.
(Doc. 23-1). Mr. Culbertson represents that the Commissioner
has no objection to the requested fees.
April 21, 2015, this Court reversed and remanded the case to
the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.
(Doc. 19). On May 13, 2015, the Court entered an order
awarding attorney's fees to Mr. Culbertson under the
Equal Access to Justice Act (''EAJA'') in the
sum of $3, 362.58, representing 9.8 hours of attorney time
and 20 hours of paralegal time for representing Plaintiff
before this Court. (Docs. 21 & 22.) Subsequently, on
remand, Plaintiff was awarded past due benefits in the amount
of $78, 897.00. (Doc. 23-2). Pursuant to the fee agreement,
the attorney fee payable from Plaintiff's past-due
benefits is $16, 361.67.
attorney, as here, who successfully represents a Social
Security claimant in court may be awarded as part of the
judgment 'a reasonable fee ... not in excess of 25
percent of the ... past-due benefits'' awarded to the
claimant. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A). The fee is payable
''out of, and not in addition to, the amount of [the]
past-due benefits.'' Id. As required by
Gisbrecht v. Barnhardt, 535 U.S. 789, 808 (2002),
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. When
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 compensate so that they
continue to represent clients in disability benefits cases.
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 805. In making this
reasonableness determination, the Gisbrecht 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. Id.
at 808. In these instances, a downward reduction may be in
the Court finds that the requested attorney's fees are
reasonable. The contingency fee contract provides that
Plaintiff agreed to pay his attorney 25% of his past-due
benefits. Plaintiff's counsel's request of an award
of 25% of Plaintiff's past-due benefits less any EAJA
fees, is within the statutory maximum.
the Court finds no reason to reduce the amount of the
requested fee. First, with respect to the character of the
representation and the results achieved, Plaintiff's
counsel provided professional and skilled representation,
resulting in an award of past due benefits in excess of $78,
000. The Court also finds that counsel promptly prosecuted
this case and created no undue delay
the requested fee will not result in a windfall for counsel B
i.e., that counsel is receiving compensation he is not
entitled to and that payment of the compensation would be
unfair or detrimental to Plaintiff. Mr. Culbertson has
submitted records showing that he spent at least 29.8 hours
on this case. The Court is satisfied that this fee award is
reasonable in comparison to the amount of time and effort
Plaintiff's counsel expended on this case and given the
risks of contingent litigation. See, e.g.,
Watterson v. Astrue, No. 3:06-cv-369-J-HTS, 2008 WL
783634, *1-2 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 21, 2008) (finding a contingency
fee, which amounted to $1, 089.66 per hour, to be reasonable
under § 406(b)); Vilkas v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., No. 2:03cv687FTM-29DNF, 2007 WL 1498115, *2 (M.D.
Fla. May 14, 2007) (finding a contingency fee, which amounted
to $1, 121.86 per hour, to be reasonable under §
for these reasons, and in the absence of any objection by the
Commissioner, Mr. Culbertson's motion for authorization
to charge a reasonable fee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 406(b) (Doc.
23) is due to be GRANTED. Section 406(b)(1) fees are approved
for Mr. Culbertson in the sum of $16, 361.67 to be paid out
of the Plaintiff's past due benefits currently being
withheld by the Social Security Administration.
 This is 25% of the past due benefits
-- $19, 724.25 - minus the previously awarded EAJA fees in