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Burgos v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

November 18, 2019

FELICITA BURGOS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [1]

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on the Motion for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Social Security Act Section 206(b)(1) (“Motion”) (Doc. 29), filed by Plaintiff's counsel on November 13, 2019. Plaintiff's counsel makes a timely request for an award of $19, 721.12 in attorney's fees pursuant to Section 206(b) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). (Id.) Defendant does not oppose the Motion. (Doc. 29-8.) For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that the Motion be GRANTED.

         I. Background

         On April 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court, appealing the Commissioner's denial of Social Security Disability benefits. (Doc. 1.) On May 22, 2018, the Court reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 24.) On December 10, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), to the extent it awarded Plaintiff's counsel fees in the amount of $3, 660.17, and expenses in the amount of $43.17 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(a)(1). (Doc. 28.)

         On remand, the Commissioner issued a decision finding Plaintiff disabled since April 3, 2013. (Doc. 29-2.) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), the Commissioner withheld $29, 721.25 from Plaintiff's past-due benefits in the amount of $118, 885.00 for the possible payment of attorney's fees. (Doc. 29-3.) Plaintiff's counsel now seeks an award of $19, 721.12 in attorney's fees pursuant to the contingent fee contract with Plaintiff, [2] less the previously awarded EAJA fees and expenses, totaling $3, 703.34.[3] (Doc. 29.)

         II. Standard

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), attorneys who secure a favorable result for their clients upon remand from federal court may petition the Court for a fee “not in excess of 25 percent of the total of the past-due benefits to which the claimant is entitled.” 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A). In capping the fee at 25 percent, “Congress . . . sought to protect claimants against ‘inordinately large fees' and also to ensure that attorneys representing successful claimants would not risk ‘nonpayment of [appropriate] fees.'” Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 805 (2002).

         In Gisbrecht, the Supreme Court stated:

[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. . . . 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.

         The first place that the Court should turn to in assessing the reasonableness of a fee is the parties' fee agreement. Id. at 808. In conducting its independent check to ensure that a fee is reasonable, the Court may appropriately reduce the fee for a number of reasons, including “the character of the representation and the results the representative achieved, ” any delay caused by counsel “so that the attorney will not profit from the accumulation of benefits during the pendency of the case in court, ” and/or benefits that “are large in comparison to the amount of time counsel spent on the case.” Id.

In this regard, the court may require the claimant's attorney to submit, not as a basis for satellite litigation, but as an aid to the court's assessment of the reasonableness of the fee yielded by the fee agreement, a record of the hours spent representing the claimant and a statement of the lawyer's normal hourly billing charge for noncontingent-fee cases.

Id.

         III. ...


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