United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Michael Robbins brought this suit to contest a denial of
disability benefits by Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”). (DE 1). On July 14,
2017, pursuant to a joint motion to remand by the parties,
this Court entered an Order that reversed the
Commissioner's denial of benefits and remanded the case
for further proceedings. (DE 23; DE 24).
October 11, 2018, Robbins's attorney, Adriana de la
Torre, moved pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) for the
Court's authorization of attorney fees in the amount of
$20, 382.75 for her representation of Robbins in federal
court. (DE 29). The Commissioner filed a response indicating
that the parties have conferred regarding the motion and
agreed to reduce the requested fee to $14, 382.75, in light
of the Commissioner's payment of $6, 000 to the
non-attorney representative at the administrative level. (DE
following reasons, de la Torre's motion for attorney fees
will be GRANTED in the amount of $14, 382.75, subject to an
offset explained herein.
Factual and Procedural Background
September 2, 2016, de la Torre entered into a Social Security
Disability Application Fee Agreement with Robbins for her
representation of Robbins in federal court. (DE 29-2). The
agreement provided that de la Torre was “entitled to a
fee equal to the lesser of: (1) twenty-five percent (25%) of
the past-due benefits owed to [Robbins] and [his] dependents,
if applicable; or (2) the maximum amount set by the
[Commissioner] pursuant to Section 26 of the Social Security
Act . . . .” (DE 29-2).
September 19, 2016, Robbins filed the instant action with
this Court, appealing the Commissioner's denial of his
application for disability benefits. (DE 1). On July 13,
2017, the Commissioner filed an agreed motion to reverse and
remand Robbins's case to the Commissioner. (DE 23). The
following day, the Court granted the Commissioner's
motion, and the case was remanded to the Commissioner for
further proceedings. (DE 24; DE 25).
August 8, 2017, Robbins and the Commissioner filed a joint
motion for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, seeking
payment for the hours that de la Torre spent advocating
Robbins's claim in federal court. (DE 26). Pursuant to
the parties' stipulation, the Court granted Robbins an
EAJA fee award of $6, 555. (DE 27).
about June 12, 2018, the Commissioner issued Robbins a notice
of award, informing him that he was entitled to disability
benefits as of December 2013. (DE 29-1). The notice of award
further stated that the Commissioner was withholding $20,
382.75, which was 25% of Robbins's past-due benefits, to
pay Robbins's attorney. (DE 29-1).
four months later, on October 11, 2018, de la Torre filed the
instant motion, seeking fees under § 406(b) in the
amount of $20, 382.75. (DE 29; DE 30). On November 6, 2018,
the Commissioner filed a response, indicating that the
parties had since agreed to reduce de la Torre's
requested fee to $14, 382.75 in light of the
Commissioner's payment of $6, 000 to the non-attorney
representative at the administrative level. (DE 34).
for representing Social Security claimants, both
administratively and in federal court, are governed by 42
U.S.C. § 406. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 793-94.
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 ...