United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Patricia Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge.
the Court is plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). See Pl.'s
Mot. Att'y Fees (“Pl.'s Mot.”) (Docket
No. 24). Although plaintiff is the claimant in this social
security disability appeal, the real party interest to this
motion is his attorney, John Haapala (“counsel”).
All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to
enter final orders and judgment in accordance with Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
See (Docket No. 9). The Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”) does not
oppose the motion,  but plays a role “resembling
that of a trustee for [plaintiff].” Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 798 n.6 (2002). Having reviewed
the file and the fees sought, the Court concludes counsel is
entitled to fees under § 406(b) and the motion is
September 26, 2017, plaintiff sought review of the
Commissioner's decision denying his disability
application and filed a Complaint in this Court. (Docket No.
1). On November 18, 2018, after briefing from the parties,
the Court issued an Opinion and Order (“O&O”)
reversing the Commissioner's decision and entered
judgment remanding the appeal for further administrative
proceedings. See (Docket Nos. 16-19).
February 12, 2019, the Court granted a Stipulated Application
for Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (“EAJA”), in the
amount of $4, 916.64. (Docket No. 23).
August 7, 2019, the Commissioner issued a letter entitling
plaintiff to retroactive benefits in the amount of $97,
104.00. Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 4. On October 4, 2019,
plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Approval of Attorney
Fees Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) in the amount of
$24, 276.00. Pl.'s Mot. 1.
entering a judgment in favor of a Social Security claimant
represented by counsel, a 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). District courts approach § 406(b) fee
determinations “‘by looking first to the
contingent-fee agreement, then testing it for
reasonableness.'” Crawford v. Astrue, 586
F.3d 1142, 1149 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Gisbrecht,
535 U.S. at 808). In testing the reasonableness of a fee,
courts consider “the character of the representation
and the results the representative achieved.”
Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1149 (quoting
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808). A reduction in fees is
appropriate where counsel has engaged in “substandard
performance, delay, or benefits that are not in proportion to
the time spent on the case.” Id. (citing
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808). When a court approves
both an EAJA fee award and a § 406(b) fee payment, the
claimant's attorney must refund to the claimant the
lesser of the two payments. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
requests a fee of $24, 276.00. The Court first examines the
fee agreement to ensure its compliance with the relevant
statutory provision and then surveys the character of the
representation and the results achieved.
Gisbrecht, the Court must first examine the fee
agreement to ensure it does not exceed the statutory 25
percent cap mandated by Congress. 535 U.S. at 808. The fee
agreement here does not exceed the statutory cap.
See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 2. The terms of this
agreement are thus within the statute's limits.
the Court must confirm that the fee requested does not exceed
the statute's 25 percent ceiling. This determination
requires evidence of the retroactive benefits to be paid to
plaintiff. Counsel provided a document from the Commissioner
entitled “Notice of Change in Benefits, ” which
details the retroactive benefits due to plaintiff. Pl.'s
Mot. Ex. 1 at 4. Counsel seeks $24, 276.00 in fees, which is
25 percent of the amount of retroactive benefits. Therefore,
counsel's request does not exceed the statutory ceiling.