United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Mr. Ferraro's Petition for Authorization of
Attorneys' Fees (the “Petition”) under §
406(b) submitted on May 14, 2018. (Doc. 15). Mr.
Ferraro's attorney requests $14, 910.50 in fees for 16.7
hours of work. (See Id. at 2). The Commissioner
opposes the Petition by arguing that the fees are not
reasonable. (See Doc. 17 at 2). The Petition is now
ripe for review. For the reasons stated in this opinion, the
Petition is GRANTED in part and otherwise
406(b)(1)(A) provides that "[w]henever a court renders a
judgment favorable to a [represented] claimant . . . the
court may determine and allow . . . a reasonable
[attorney's fee], not in excess of 25 percent of the
total of the past-due benefits." 42 U.S.C. §
406(b)(1)(A). Where the claimant and his attorney have
executed a contingent-fee agreement, the Supreme Court has
interpreted subsection 406(b) as requiring district courts to
conduct a two-step analysis. See Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789 (2002). First, the Court
calculates whether the requested award falls "within the
25 percent limit." Jackson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 601 F.3d 1268, 1271 (11th Cir. 2010). If so, the
agreement is presumptively reasonable. In step two, the Court
must consider whether "the fee sought is [actually]
reasonable for the services rendered,"
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807, and, if not, the
presumption is overcome. Where the presumption is overcome,
the Court may award a fee that is reasonable in its judgment.
standard set out in Gisbrecht is a framework that
has been subsequently bolstered by Courts of Appeals.
"[C]ourts 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." Jackson, 601 F.3d at 1271 (citation
omitted). Substandard representation, among other things,
includes a complaint "submitted on boilerplate
pleadings," where "no issues of material fact are
present," and where "no legal research is
apparent." Rodriquez v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 739,
747 (6th Cir. 1989).
reasonable fee reflects an enhancement, compared to the
market rate for similar work, based on the risk of
non-payment, because "payment for an attorney in a
social security case is inevitably uncertain." Wells
v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 367, 370-71 (2d Cir. 1990). On the
other hand, the quality of counsel and hours expended are
weak factors for assessing an award's reasonableness;
they "bear little if any relationship to the results
[i.e., award amount] achieved." Rodriquez, 865
F.2d at 747. But the award must not be so disproportionate to
the work performed that it gives the perception that counsel
has won the Social Security lottery. McGuire v.
Sullivan, 873 F.2d 974, 981 (7th Cir. 1989) (prohibiting
a "windfall"); cf. Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel.
Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 559 (2010) (fee shifting statutes do
not exist to enrich counsel).
policy considerations should also inform the Court's
judgment. Section 406 was enacted "to encourage
effective legal representation of claimants by insuring
lawyers that they will receive reasonable fees."
Dawson v. Finch, 425 F.2d 1192, 1195 (5th Cir.
1970). Contingent fees, in particular, "provide a
critical incentive for able attorneys to practice in the
social security field." Wells, 907 F.2d at 371.
At the same time, the Court's review is the only defense
for claimants, see Bergen v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 454 F.3d 1273, 1276 (11th Cir. 2006), against the
gutting of their statutory entitlement by the
"specialized Social-Security bar [that] charges uniform
contingent fees (the statutory maximum of 25%), which are
presumably presented . . . on a
take-it-or-leave-it-basis." Gisbrecht, 535 U.S.
at 812 (Scalia, J., dissenting).
the Court notes that, according to the Social Security
Administration, $14, 910.50 is exactly 25% of the past due
benefits. (See Doc. 15-3). Thus, it is
“presumptively” reasonable. The Court now
determines whether this amount is “actually”
reasonable. The Court determines that it is not.
Ferraro's attorney worked 16.7 hours. (See Doc.
15-4 at 1). $14, 910.50 divided by 16.7 equals about $892.84
per hour. In the Court's experience, $892.84 per hour
represents a windfall. As this Court has noted in the recent
past, $250 is an appropriate effective hourly rate. See
e.g., Hunter v. Berryhill, No.
7:13-CV-2142-VEH, 2017 WL 1132900, *2 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 27,
2017). In this case, Mr. Ferraro's attorney's work
was on par with the average attorney who practices social
security law in the Northern District of Alabama.
Accordingly, $250 multiplied by 16.7 leads to a figure of $4,
175. However, recovery is not certain in social security
cases. With that enhancement in mind, the Court determines
that $6, 262.50 is reasonable.
the Petition is GRANTED in part. $6, 262.50
in attorney's fees are hereby awarded.