United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiff David Scott Haese’s
Motion for Attorney Fees Under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 406(b) (Doc. No.
34), filed through Plaintiffâs counsel Melissa S. Hedrick.
March 13, 2018, the Court entered a Judgment reversing the
Commissioner’s decision denying Plaintiff’s
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) and remanding the case for further
administrative proceedings under the fourth sentence of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). See J. (Doc. No. 25) at 1. On
July 7, 2019, the Social Security Administration issued a
favorable decision on Plaintiff’s applications and
found Plaintiff disabled as of February 13, 2012.
See Pl.’s Mot. Att’y Fees Ex. 2 (Doc.
No. 34-2) at 3-4. The Commissioner has notified Plaintiff
that up to $19, 021.50 of withheld benefits can be applied
toward her attorneys’ fees. See Id . at 5-6;
Pl.’s Mot. Att’y Fees at 1-2; id. Ex. 1
(Doc. No. 34-1) at 1 (contingent-fee contract between
Plaintiff and his counsel prescribing that if Plaintiff is
awarded benefits after a remand from federal court, counsel
will request the court to approve a fee of “not to
exceed 25 percent of the past due benefits”). In
addition, the Court has previously awarded $6587.40 in
attorney’s fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2412 et seq.
See Order of July 2, 2018 (Doc. No. 29).
Plaintiff’s attorney now requests an award of $18,
434.10, which is less than the sum of the funds being
withheld (less $6000.00 available to pay Plaintiff’s
administrative-level representative, see Pl.’s
Mot. Att’y Fees at 2) and the previous EAJA award
Whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant
under this subchapter 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). Any such payment must be made
“out of, and not in addition to, ” the past-due
benefits owed to the claimant. Id. This subsection
“does not displace contingent-fee agreements as the
primary means by which fees are set for successfully
representing Social Security benefits claimants in
court” so long as the agreed-upon amount stays within
the statute’s “25 percent boundary.”
Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002). For
a fee request that lies within this boundary, “the
attorney for the successful claimant” still “must
show that the fee sought is reasonable for the services
Commissioner has responded that he has no objection to
Plaintiff’s counsel’s current request for $18,
434.10 in fees. See Def.’s Resp. (Doc. No. 35)
at 1-2. The Commissioner correctly notes, however, that if
fees are now awarded pursuant to § 406(b)
counsel must refund the lesser EAJA award to Plaintiff.
See Id . at 2; Order of July 2, 2018, at 1-2;
McGraw v. Barnhart, 450 F.3d 493, 497 & n.2
(10th Cir. 2006).
carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, the Court
finds that an award of $18, 434.10, which is less than 25% of
the past-due benefits awarded, is a reasonable fee award for
the work performed in this case in view of the contingent
nature of the representation, the applicable attorney-fee
agreement, and the results achieved. While before the Court,
Ms. Hedrick filed a detailed opening brief, presenting a
well-supported argument that the administrative law judge
erred in denying Plaintiff’s DIB and SSI claims.
See Doc. No. 19. The Commissioner filed a brief in
opposition, which Ms. Hedrick was required to review.
See Doc. No. 22; Pl.’s Mot. Att’y Fees
Ex. 3 (Doc. No. 34-3) at 2. Ms. Hedrick represents that her
firm spent 34.4 hours litigating Plaintiff’s disability
case in federal court, which would result in an effective
hourly rate of $559.95 with respect to the relevant portion
of the requested § 406(b) fee. See Pl.’s
Mot. Att’y Fees at 12; see Gisbrecht, 535 U.S.
at 793, 808 (rejecting the “lodestar” method of
calculating fee awards under § 406(b) but noting that
the district court may consider the hours spent and other
factors in contingency-fee cases to help assess “the
reasonableness of the fee yielded by the fee
agreement”); cf. Harlan v. Colvin, No.
CIV-13-477-D, 2015 WL 9295809, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Dec. 18,
2015) (awarding $17, 429.22 where the putative rate was
between $517.95 and $632.64 per hour). Plaintiff and Ms.
Hedrick agreed that the latter may collect attorney’s
fees for representation before the Court for an amount
greater than the currently pending request. See
Pl.’s Mot. Att’y Fees Ex. 1, at 1.
Plaintiffs Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. No. 34) is GRANTED.
Plaintiffs attorney Ms. Melissa Hedrick is awarded
attorney’s fees in the amount of $18, 434.10, to be
paid out of the past-due benefits Plaintiff received by
reason of the remand and favorable decision in this case.
See 42 U.S.C. 406(b)(1)(A). The Social Security
Administration shall pay this amount directly to: Melissa S.
Hedrick, 630 N.E. 63rd Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105.
Upon payment, Ms. Hedrick shall promptly refund to ...