United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
COLLINS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Bradley Scott Heintz brought this suit to contest a denial of
disability benefits by Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”). (DE 1). On June 5,
2015, this Court entered an Opinion and Order that reversed
the Commissioner's denial of benefits and remanded the
case for further proceedings. (DE 29).
attorney, Joseph Sellers, now moves pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b) for the Court's authorization of attorney
fees in the amount of $7, 982 for his firm's
representation of Heintz in federal court. (DE 37). The
Commissioner does not oppose Sellers's fee request. (DE
37 ¶ 10). For the following reasons, Sellers's
motion for attorney fees will be GRANTED, subject to the
adjustment set forth herein.
Factual and Procedural Background
16, 2014, Sellers and his co-counsel entered into a
contingent fee agreement with Heintz for their representation
of him in federal court, in which Heintz agreed to pay them
25% of any past-due benefits awarded to him. (DE 37-1).
25, 2014, Heintz filed the instant action with this Court,
appealing the Commissioner's denial of his application
for disability benefits. (DE 1). On June 5, 2015, Heintz
received a favorable judgment from this Court, and the case
was remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings. (DE
August 26, 2015, Heintz filed a request for attorney fees
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”),
28 U.S.C. § 2412, seeking payment for the 38.75 hours of
attorney time (plus 3.75 hours of paralegal time) spent
advocating his claim in federal court. (DE 31-DE 34).
Pursuant to a stipulation by the parties, the Court granted
Heintz an EAJA fee award of $7, 200. (DE 35).
March 20, 2016, the Commissioner sent a notice of award to
Heintz, informing that he was entitled to monthly disability
benefits beginning May 2013 and past-due benefits of $37,
289, of which $9, 322.25 was withheld toward payment of
attorney fees. (DE 37-2).
August 22, 2016, and again on January 3, 2017, Sellers
received a notice from the Commissioner that a balance of $7,
982 was being withheld from Heintz's past-due benefits
for payment of attorney fees for federal court and inquiring
whether Sellers had petitioned the Court for attorney fees.
(DE 37-3 at 2-3). On January 23, 2017, Sellers filed the
instant unopposed motion seeking the Court's approval of
a payment of $7, 982 for attorney fees before this Court,
requesting that $7, 200 be released to Heintz to offset the
previous EAJA fee award and the remaining $782 be paid to
Sellers's firm. (DE 37 ¶ 7).
for representing social security claimants, both
administratively and in federal court, are governed by 42
U.S.C. § 406. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 793, 794.
Section 406(a) controls fees for representation in
administrative proceedings, and § 406(b) controls
attorney fees for representation in court. Id.
Unlike fees obtained under the EAJA,  the fees awarded under
§ 406 are charged against the claimant, not the
government. Id. at 796.
§ 406(a), an attorney who has represented a claimant may
file a fee petition or fee agreement with the Commissioner to
receive fees for his or her representation at the
administrative level. 42 U.S.C. § 406(a);
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 794-95; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1725(a), 416.1525(a). There are, however,
limits on the amount that the Commissioner can award pursuant
to § 406(a). Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 794-95.
§ 406(b), an attorney who has successfully represented a
claimant in federal court may receive “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);
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 795. Furthermore, §
406(b) has been harmonized with the EAJA; although fee awards
may be made under both the EAJA and § 406(b), a
claimant's attorney must refund to the claimant the
amount of the smaller fee. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
796 (explaining that “an EAJA award offsets an award
under Section 406(b)”).
the award by the Commissioner under § 406(a), the court
is required under § 406(b) to review for reasonableness
the attorney fees yielded by contingent fee ...