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House v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

November 20, 2014

LEON R. HOUSE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

SUMMARY ORDER

GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

Pending before the court is claimant Leon R. House, Jr.'s counsel's motion for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1). (Dkt. No. 27; Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 1 at 1.) The Commissioner does not oppose counsel's motion, but requests that the court review the matter to ensure there is a reasonable result. (Dkt. No. 29 at 1-3.) For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

Section 406(b) of Title 42 of the United States Code authorizes a court to award reasonable attorneys' fees to a successful claimant's attorney, provided that those fees do not exceed twenty-five percent of the amount of past-due benefits awarded to the claimant. See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002); Wells v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 367, 370 (2d Cir. 1990). "[B]ecause a successful social security claimant evaluates and pays his own attorney, a court's primary focus should be on the reasonableness of the contingency agreement in the context of the particular case." Wells, 907 F.2d at 371. Section 406(b) does not displace any contingent-fee arrangement between the claimant and attorney, but rather sets the ceiling for an award under any such agreement at twenty-five percent of the past-due benefits. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 792-93. Further, where fee awards are made under both § 406(b) and the Equal Access to Justice Act, [2] the claimant's attorney must refund the smaller amount to the claimant. See id. at 796.

Here, in accordance with a fee agreement entered into between House and his counsel, (Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 2 at 17-18), counsel seeks payment of twenty-five percent of the past-due benefits owed, (Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 1 ¶¶ 4, 17). House's past-due benefits amount to $53, 913.00, twenty-five percent of which is $13, 478.25.[3] (Dkt. No. 29, Attach. 1 at 6.) House's attorney performed 44.2 hours of work before this court, (Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 2 at 33), and also, pursuant to a consent agreement between the parties, procured an award of fees in the amount of $7, 800.00 under the EAJA, (Dkt. No. 26). Counsel has indicated that, in the event that the court awards fees pursuant to § 406(b)(1), he will refund the smaller of the awards to House. (Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 1 ¶¶ 11, 14); see Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 794-95.

The Commissioner does not oppose counsel's request, and has stated that the amount sought "does not appear to be unreasonable[, ] there is no evidence of fraud or overreaching, " and "the requested fee award [is not] a windfall." (Dkt. No. 29 at 2 (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808).) The Commissioner also notes that counsel successfully procured fees pursuant to the EAJA, and that House will benefit by receiving the lesser of the EAJA or § 406(b) fees.[4] (Dkt. No. 29 at 2-3); see Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 794-95.

The court agrees that $13, 478.25, twenty-five percent of the past-due benefits, is reasonable, given the hours expended and the fact that counsel secured a favorable outcome for House. There is no evidence of fraud or overreaching, and $13, 478.25 would not be a windfall to counsel. Thus, counsel's motion for attorneys' fees pursuant to § 406(b)(1) is granted.

Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED that the Clerk is directed to substitute Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, for defendant Michael J. Astrue, and amend the caption accordingly; and it is further

ORDERED that counsel's motion for attorneys' fees (Dkt. No. 27) is GRANTED in the amount of $13, 478.25; and it is further

ORDERED that the Commissioner is directed to take the steps necessary to cause the amount of $13, 478.25 to be made payable to counsel from the fund of withheld past-due benefits, in compliance with the requirements of the Social Security Act and implementing regulations as interpreted by the federal courts, and in full satisfaction of the obligations imposed by this Summary Order; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk provide a copy of this Summary Order to the parties.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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