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Hayhurst v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 1, 2018

BRYAN M. HAYHURST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is plaintiff's motion for an award of attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1) in the amount of $11, 794.75. (Doc. No. 18.) Defendant has responded that the she has identified no reason to oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 7, 2012, plaintiff Bryan M. Hayhurst (“Hayhurst”) filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2012. Following initial denials of his applications, Hayhurst requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). After the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on March 10, 2015, finding Hayhurst not disabled. On January 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Hayhurst's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final.

         On March 9, 2016, Hayhurst filed a civil action seeking this Court's review of the Commissioner's decision. On October 12, 2016, the parties jointly requested that the case be remanded for further administrative proceedings. This request was granted and the case was remanded. (See Doc. No. 15.)

         Plaintiff sought and obtained an award under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, in the amount of $6, 650.00 in attorney fees. (See Doc. No. 17.)

         On June 7, 2017, following further administrative proceedings on remand, the Commissioner found Hayhurst disabled as of January 1, 2012. He was awarded past due benefits.

         DISCUSSION

         Attorney Fee Awards Under § 406(b)

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A), following a favorable judgment on a Social Security disability appeal, the Court may award attorney fees not in excess of 25% of the past-due benefits received by the claimant. Boggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 2:14-CV-613, 2017 WL 3608249, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 21, 2017) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1); Lowery v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 940 F.Supp.2d 689, 691 (S.D. Ohio 2013)). Section 406(b)(1)(A) places a 25% cap on the amount of fees recoverable, and requires that the fee award be reasonable in light of services rendered. Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 152 L.Ed.2d 996 (2002). “The Court may award fees only for work performed before the Court and not before the Social Security Administration.” Pendland v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:08-CV-485, 2011 WL 4891025 at *1 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 21, 2011) (citing Horenstein v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 35 F.3d 261, 262 (6th Cir. 1994) (en banc)).

         Sixth Circuit “precedent accords a rebuttable presumption of reasonableness to contingency-fee agreements that comply with § 406(b)'s 25-percent cap.” Lasley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 308, 309 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Hayes v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 923 F.2d 418, 421 (6th Cir. 1991); Rodriquez v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 739, 746 (6th Cir. 1989) (en banc)). Deductions to large fees are only made in two situations: “1) those occasioned by improper conduct or ineffectiveness of counsel; and 2) situations in which counsel would otherwise enjoy a windfall because of either an inordinately large benefit award or from minimal effort expended.” Hayes, 923 F.2d at 420-421 (emphasis added in original) (quoting Rodriquez, 865 F.2d at 746).

         The Sixth Circuit has held that “a windfall can never occur when, in a case where a contingent fee contract exists, the hypothetical hourly rate determined by dividing the number of hours worked for the claimant into the amount of the fee permitted under the contract is less than twice the standard rate for such work in the relevant market.” Id. at 422 (footnotes omitted).[1] In fact, “a hypothetical hourly rate that is less than twice the standard rate is per se reasonable[.]” Id.

         If neither of the two situations permitting a fee deduction is applicable to a § 406 fee petition, then “an agreement for a 25% fee, the maximum permitted under § 206(b) of the Social Security Act, 42 ...


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