Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Roberts v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 9, 2017

MICHAEL A. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY C. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          BERT W. MILLING, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This action is before the Court on the Petition for Authorization of Attorney Fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) filed by Byron A. Lassiter, counsel for Plaintiff Michael A. Roberts (“Plaintiff”) (Doc. 29). The Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) has filed a response to the motion (Doc. 30). Upon consideration, the Court finds that the § 406(b) motion is due to be GRANTED.[1]

         I. Background

         On September 22, 2015, Plaintiff, at all times represented by Mr. Lassiter, commenced this action for judicial review of an unfavorable final decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). (Doc. 1). In accordance with the Court's scheduling order (Doc. 5), the Commissioner filed her answer (Doc. 12) to the complaint and the record of the administrative proceedings (Doc. 13), and the Plaintiff filed her brief identifying errors in the Commissioner's final decision (Doc. 15). In response to the Plaintiff's brief, the Commissioner filed her brief in support of the Final Decision (Doc. 16). Oral argument was waived (Docs. 18, 20) and on March 11, 2016, the undersigned entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order reversing the Commissioner's final decision, remanding this action to the Social Security Administration for further administrative proceedings (Doc. 22) and entering Judgment for the Plaintiff (Doc. 23).

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)[2] (Doc. 24), for time spent before this Court, which was granted on June 6, 2016, awarding the Plaintiff $3, 163.44 in attorney's fees (Docs. 28, 29).

         Following remand to the Social Security Administration (SSA), an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a favorable decision for the Plaintiff on October 28, 2016 (Doc. 29, Paragraph 5.). A Notice of Award of past-due benefits was issued February 12, 2017, which also advised that $9, 616.00, representing 25% of past due benefits, was being withheld in order to pay an approved lawyer's fee (Doc. 29-2). Mr. Lassiter has already been paid $6, 000 for his services before the administration (Doc. 29-3) and he filed the present § 406(b) motion on June 2, 2017, requesting that the Court award him $3, 616.00, the balance of the withheld fee (Doc. 29).

         II. Analysis

[U]nder 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), a court entering judgment in favor of a Social Security benefits claimant who was represented by an attorney “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). Assuming that the requested fee is within the 25 percent limit, the court must then determine whether “the fee sought is reasonable for the services rendered.” Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 1828, 152 L.Ed.2d 996 (2002). For example, courts may reduce the requested fee if the representation has been substandard, if the attorney has been responsible for delay, or if the benefits are large in comparison to the amount of time the attorney spent on the case. Id. at 808, 122 S.Ct. at 1828. A § 406(b) fee is paid by the claimant out of the past-due benefits awarded. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A).

Jackson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 601 F.3d 1268, 1271 (11th Cir. 2010).[3] “42 U.S.C. § 406(b) authorizes an award of attorney's fees where[, as here, ] the district court remands the case to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings, and the Commissioner on remand awards the claimant past-due benefits.” Bergen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 454 F.3d 1273, 1277 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam).

         a. Timeliness

         “Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(2) applies to a § 406(b) attorney's fee claim.” Id. Rule 54(d)(2)(B)(i) provides that, “[u]nless a statute or a court order provides otherwise, [a] motion[ for attorney's fees] must be filed no later than 14 days after the entry of judgment.” The Notice of Award sent to Plaintiff is dated February 12, 2017 (Doc. 29-2) but it is unclear when Plaintiff received it. The Notice stated that Plaintiff had 60 days from the day after the notice was received to ask for an appeal and 5 additional days was allowed for receipt of the notice. In ordering remand, the Court did not set the time to file a § 406(b) motion (Doc. 22). Mr. Lasiter's 406(b) motion was filed June 7, 2017, less than four months after the date of the Notice of Award. Considering the history of this action and the successful result obtained by Mr. Lassiter for his client, the Motion is DEEMED timely filed.

         b. Reasonableness

In Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, the Supreme Court considered 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) and clarified its impact on the district court's role in awarding a reasonable fee following a favorable claim for Social Security benefits. See535 U.S. 789, 807, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 1828, 152 L.Ed.2d 996 (2002). Although § 406(b)(1)(A) gives district courts the power to “determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee” following a favorable claim for Social Security benefits, 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A), it does not empower them to ignore the fee agreements entered into by parties when determining what a reasonable fee would be, see Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807, 122 S.Ct. at 1828 (concluding that “ § 406(b) does not displace contingent-fee agreements as the primary means by which fees are set”). Instead, courts must look to the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.