United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina
Reidinger United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Motion for Approval and Award of Attorney's Fees [Doc.
14], as amended [Doc. 16].
December 8, 2014, the Plaintiff initiated this action seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny
his application for benefits under the Social Security Act.
[Doc. 1]. On June 10, 2015, this Court reversed the
Commissioner's decision denying the Plaintiff's
application for benefits and remanded the case to the Appeals
Council for further administrative action. [Docs. 9, 10]. On
June 26, 2015, the Court awarded the Plaintiff attorney's
fees in the amount of $5, 600.00 in full satisfaction of any
and all claims by the Plaintiff pursuant to the Equal Access
to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) (EAJA). [Doc. 13].
August 18, 2017, the Commissioner issued a Notice of Award to
the Plaintiff indicating that his past due benefits were $59,
703.00. [Doc. 14-3 at 1-6]. The Notice of Award also explains
that $14, 925.75, representing 25% of the Plaintiff's
back benefits, was being withheld from the Plaintiff's
back benefits to pay any award of attorney's fees.
[Id. at 5]. The Plaintiff and his attorney have
entered into a contingency fee agreement pursuant to which
any attorney's fee award cannot exceed 25% of the past
due benefits. [Doc. 14-5].
Plaintiff now seeks an award of $11, 600.00 in fees pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1), with the additional
stipulation that upon receipt of such payment, he will refund
to the Plaintiff the $5, 600.00 previously awarded under the
EAJA. [Doc. 14]. The Commissioner does not support or oppose
the Plaintiff's fee request to the extent that he is
seeking fees for services before this Court. The
Commissioner, however, opposes the fee request to the extent
that the Plaintiff is seeking compensation from this Court
for services performed before the agency. [Doc. 18].
are two avenues by which a Social Security benefits claimant
may be awarded attorney's fees. First, claimants may seek
a fee award under the EAJA, which provides that “a
court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United
States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that party
in any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort),
including proceedings for judicial review of agency action,
brought by or against the United States in any court having
jurisdiction of that action....” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A). Second, a claimant may seek an award pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), which provides that
“[w]henever a court renders a judgment favorable to a
claimant ... 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....” 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A).
attorney's fees may be awarded under both the EAJA and
§ 406(b), the Social Security Act requires that the
attorney must refund to the claimant the smaller fee.
“Thus, an EAJA award offsets an award under Section
406(b), so that the amount of the total past-due benefits the
claimant actually receives will be increased by the EAJA
award up to the point the claimant receives 100 percent of
the past-due benefits.” Stephens ex rel. R.E. v.
Astrue, 565 F.3d 131, 134-35 (4th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796
the Plaintiff and his counsel have entered into a contingency
fee agreement by which the Plaintiff has agreed to pay up to
25% of any past due benefits awarded to his counsel. As the
Fourth Circuit has recognized, “§ 406(b) was
designed to control, not to displace, fee agreements between
Social Security benefits claimants and their counsel. As long
as the agreement does not call for a fee above the statutory
ceiling of twenty-five percent of awarded past-due benefits,
. . . § 406(b) simply instructs a court to review the
agreement for reasonableness.” Mudd v.
Barnhart, 418 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir. 2005)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Court finds that the services rendered in this Court were
appropriate and reasonable to the relief sought, that the
contingency fee agreement executed by the Plaintiff and his
counsel is reasonable, and that the amount of fees requested
is also reasonable. Accordingly, the Plaintiffs Motion for
Attorney's Fees is granted.
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that the Plaintiffs Motion
for Approval and Award of Attorney's Fees [Doc. 14], as
amended [Doc. 16], is hereby GRANTED, and an
award of attorney's fees in the amount of Eleven Thousand
Six Hundred Dollars ($11, 600.00) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b)(1)(A) is hereby approved.
IS FURTHER ORDERED that upon receipt of the §
406(b) fees, Plaintiff's counsel is hereby instructed to
return to the Plaintiff the sum of $5, 600.00, representing
the fee that counsel previously received pursuant to the
Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d).
IS FURTHER ORDERED that a copy of this Order be
provided to the Social Security Administration in order to
effectuate payment of the award from past due benefits which
have been withheld ...