United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
TRIMBLE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
RULING ON MOTION
PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
pending is the motion for authorization of attorneys'
fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), which was filed by
Matthew D. Lane, Jr., the attorney for Social Security
disability benefits claimant Louis Paul Daigle. (Rec. Doc.
19). Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration, responded to the motion. (Rec. Doc.
21). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.
Mr. Lane undertook his representation of Mr. Daigle with
regard to his Social Security disability claim, Mr. Daigle
executed a contingency fee agreement agreeing that Mr. Lane
would be entitled to a fee of twenty-five percent of any
past-due benefits that he might ultimately be awarded. (Rec.
Doc. 19-2). Mr. Lane then represented Mr. Daigle in appealing
an adverse ruling by the Commissioner of Social Security.
October 2016, Mr. Lane filed this lawsuit on behalf of Mr.
Daigle, seeking to have the adverse ruling reversed. Mr.
Lane's efforts were successful, and Mr. Daigle prevailed
in this action when a judgment was issued reversing the
Commissioner's unfavorable ruling and remanding the
matter to the Commissioner of Social Security for further
review. (Rec. Doc. 13). Then, on November 5, 2018,
Administrative Law Judge Kim A. Fields issued a fully
favorable ruling, finding that Mr. Daigle has been disabled
since December 12, 2014. (Rec. Doc. 19-3 at 5-11).
Lane filed a motion for attorneys' fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). (Rec. Doc. 16).
The Commissioner did not oppose the motion, and a judgment
awarding attorneys' fees in the amount of $2, 117.50 was
entered on March 21, 2018. (Rec. Doc. 18). In his briefing,
Mr. Lane represented that the award of attorneys' fees in
the amount of $2, 117.50 was subsequently paid. (Rec. Doc.
19-1 at 1).
20, 2018, the Social Security Administration notified Mr.
Daigle that he would be receiving monthly benefits going
forward, and that he was eligible for Medicare hospital
insurance, medical insurance, and prescription drug coverage.
(Rec. Doc. 19-4 at 1-5). This letter also advised that
twenty-five percent of Mr. Daigle's past-due benefits - a
sum of $19, 842.25 - was being withheld in case a fee to her
lawyer was requested and approved. (Rec. Doc. 19-4 at 3).
Accordingly, Mr. Daigle was awarded more than $59, 000.00 in
past due benefits (excluding the sum withheld for payment of
January 22, 2019, Mr. Lane filed a petition for approval of a
fee of $7, 875.00 under 42 U.S.C. § 406(a) in connection
with the services he provided in representing Mr. Daigle
before the Social Security Administration. (Rec. Doc. 19-5).
Mr. Lane now seeks an award of $11, 967.25 in attorneys'
fees for his efforts before the court ($19, 842.25 withheld
from past due benefits minus the requested Section 406(a) fee
of $7, 875.00) under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) and in
accordance with the terms of the contingency fee agreement
between he and Mr. Daigle.
Lane is entitled to apply, under 42 U.S.C. § 406(a), for
a fee for his efforts before the agency, and he is also
entitled to apply, under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), for an
award of fees for his work before the court. Section 406(b)
reads, in pertinent part, as follows: “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.” The Fifth Circuit
interprets Section 406 as precluding the combination of
agency fees under Section 406(a) and court fees under Section
406(b) from exceeding twenty-five percent of a claimant's
past-due benefits. In order to harmonize the fees available
under the two sections of the statute, Mr. Lane is seeking to
recover an amount under Section 406(b) that accounts for his
earlier fee request under Section 406(a). “Congress
harmonized fees payable by the Government under EAJA with
fees payable under § 406(b) out of the claimant's
past-due Social Security benefits in this manner: Fee awards
may be made under both prescriptions, but the claimant's
attorney must ‘refun[d] to the claimant the amount of
the smaller fee.'” Therefore, Mr. Lane represented
in his briefing that if an award is authorized under Section
406(a) and also under Section 406(b), he will refund the EAJA
fee of $2, 117.50 that he previously received. (Rec. Doc.
19-1 at 2, n. 9; Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 8).
Lane requested an award of $11, 967.25, an amount that
represents 25% of the total past-due benefits that were
awarded to Mr. Daigle ($19, 842.25) less the $7, 875.00 in
Section 406(a) fees that were previously applied for. Thus,
the requested fee comports with the controlling law.
support of his motion, Mr. Lane submitted a copy of the
contingency fee agreement between he and Mr. Daigle, which
provides for attorneys' fees of “twenty-five
percent (25%) of any and all past-due benefits awarded to my
family and me.” (Rec. Doc. 19-2 at 1). He submitted a
time sheet (Rec. Doc. 16-2) detailing the 12.1 hours that he
spent providing professional services to Mr. Daigle with
regard to the appeal. Mr. Lane also represented that he spent
an additional 2.0 hours preparing the instant motion and
associated filings, for a total of 14.1 hours spent on this
matter in this court. (Rec. Doc. 19-1 at 6). Mr. Lane
acknowledged that if he is awarded the sum requested in the
motion, he will be required to refund the EAJA award of $2,
117.50 to Mr. Daigle. The Commissioner agrees that Mr. Lane
is entitled to a reasonable fee for court-related
representation, but defers to the court's determination
of the reasonableness of the amount requested by Mr. Lane.
(Rec. Doc. 21).
Lane and the Commissioner agree that Section 406(b), quoted
above, governs his attorneys' fee application. This Court
concurs. Section 406(b) governs the award and collection of
fees by attorneys for the representation of claimants in
court. The statute does not displace
contingent-fee agreements within the statutory ceiling;
instead, it instructs courts to review for reasonableness the
fees calculated based on such agreements. Although the
application of the lodestar method (hours reasonably spent on
the case times reasonable hourly rate) to calculate fees
under Section 406(b) was expressly rejected, a claimant's
attorney may be required to submit a record of the hours
spent representing the claimant and a statement of the
lawyer's normal hourly billing charge for
non-contingent-fee cases as aids to the court's
evaluation of the reasonableness of the fee yielded by the
fee agreement.Add ...