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Reynolds v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

August 15, 2016

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          William C. Lee, Judge

         This matter is before the court on “Plaintiff’s Attorney’s Motion for an Award of Attorneys Fees Under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)”, filed by the Plaintiff on June 15, 2016. The defendant Commissioner responded to the motion on June 29, 2016, indicating that the Commissioner does not object to the award of fees as requested.

         For the following reasons the motion will be granted.


         Plaintiff filed claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB-Title II) on January 4, 2011. Plaintiff’s claim was denied on March 4, 2011. (R. at 79-86) Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, but was denied again on April 29, 2011. (R. at 88-94) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on November 3, 2011. (R. at 95-96) Plaintiff retained a different attorney, Ronald D. Miller for representation October 26, 2011. (R. at 131) He also agreed to “pay the costs of development of my claim(s), including but not limited to [ ] costs for medical records/reports that may be requested by my attorney at his/her discretion.” Id. On May 22, 2012 Plaintiff appeared in Fort Wayne, Indiana before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Valencia Jarvis of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). (R.. at 31-64) On June 15, 2012, Judge Jarvis issued an unfavorable determination. (R. at 15-30)

         On August 16, 2012, Plaintiff retained Keller & Keller LLP for representation. (Exbt. 2A). Plaintiff agreed that “if any of my claim(s) progress beyond the Office of Hearing and Appeals administrative hearing level for review . . . and then is favorably decided that my attorney may elect to use the fee petition process to petition for up to 25% of all past due benefits without limitation.” Id. Subsequent to retaining Keller & Keller LLP for representation, Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on October 22, 2013. (R. at 1-7)

         Plaintiff then timely filed this civil action. (Dkt. 1) On December 10, 2013, this court issued an order to reverse the Commissioner’s unfavorable determination and remand the case for further consideration under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Dkt. 39, 41)

         On April 27, 2015, Plaintiff’s attorney obtained an order for an award of attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(a)-(d), from this Court in the amount of $6, 000.00. (Dkt. 44) Plaintiff’s attorney has received of $4, 552.64 of this payment.

         After his claim was reconsidered by the agency, Plaintiff’s claim for disability benefits was approved on March 2, 2016. (Plaintiff’s Exhibit 2D) Plaintiff has been awarded past-due Title II benefits totaling $59, 875.00. (Plaintiff’s Exhibit 2B at 3)

         The Social Security Act's provisions governing fees for representation are found in 42 U.S.C. § 406. See Gisbrecht v Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 794 (2002) (reviewing history of attorney fees under the Social Security Act). Section 406(a) governs fees for representing claimants in the administrative process, so a federal court does not determine whether to award any fee for representation under section 406(a). 42 U.S.C. § 406(a). Section 406(b) governs attorney fees for successful litigation for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act such as Disability Insurance Benefits, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I), 423, and, pursuant to § 302 of Public Law 108-203, for litigation for benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act or Supplemental Security Income, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382, 1382a. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b).

         Section 406(b)(1) provides:

Whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant . . . 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 . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1).

         This court must review all fee requests under § 406(b). Congress intended such review not to override the claimant and counsel's fee arrangement but rather to act as an "independent check" to ensure that the arrangement yielded a reasonable result in the particular case. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807. "Congress has provided one boundary line: Agreements are unenforceable to the extent that they provide for fees exceeding 25 percent of the past-due benefits." Id. Within the 25% boundary, the attorney for the successful claimant must show that the fee sought is reasonable for the services rendered. Id. In making this determination, the court may consider the character of the representation and the results obtained, reducing an award if the attorney is responsible for delay in the proceeding that had the ...

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