United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.
social security matter, plaintiff Paula K. moves for
attorneys' fees in the amount of $22, 894.50 under the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). For the reasons
stated below, the court will grant Paula's motion in part
and award $1, 515.00 in attorneys' fees to Michael L.
Ritchie, Esquire, to be paid from Paula's July 20, 2018
award of past-due disability benefits.
December 2011, Paula filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a
Title XVI application for supplemental security income with
the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA
subsequently denied her claims. On April 5, 2013, Paula
retained Michael L. Ritchie, Esquire, to represent her in her
Paula's request, a hearing was held on May 14, 2014,
before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marc Mates to challenge
the SSA's decision. The ALJ denied Paula's claims on
June 26, 2014. On July 15, 2014, Paula requested a review of
the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied the
request on November 6, 2015.
sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
(Dkt. No. 2.) On March 8, 2017, United States Magistrate
Judge Joel C. Hoppe issued a Report and Recommendation
(R&R) finding that substantial evidence did not support
the final decision and recommending that the court remand the
case for further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 20.)
On March 23, 2017, this court entered an order and final
judgment adopting the R&R in full. (Dkt. No. 21.)
April 6, 2017, Paula moved for an award of attorneys'
fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d). Pursuant to the parties' stipulation
filed April 18, 2017, (Dkt. No. 23) the court entered an
order awarding Paula attorneys' fees under the EAJA in
the amount of $4, 425.00 to be sent to the business address
of Michael L. Ritchie, Esquire. (Dkt. No. 24.)
remand from the court pursuant to the R&R, the ALJ
granted Paula a favorable decision, finding her disabled as
of July 16, 2011, and entitled to disability benefits. In its
Notice of Award dated July 20, 2018, the SSA awarded Paula a
total of $91, 578.00 in past-due benefits for January 2012
through August 2018. (Dkt. No. 25-1.)
now requests that this court award attorneys' fees in the
amount of $22, 894.50, or 25% of the past-due benefits award
pursuant to § 406(b) of the Social Security Act.
prescriptions set out in 42 U.S.C. §§ 406(a) and
(b) “establish the exclusive regime for obtaining fees
for successful representation” of Social Security
benefits claimants. Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 796.
Section 406 “deals with the administrative and judicial
review stages discretely: § 406(a) governs fees for
representation in administrative proceedings; § 406(b)
controls fees for representation in court.” Mudd v.
Barnhart, 418 F.3d 424, 427 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 794). Under § 406(b),
the court may award a successful claimant “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” from the SSA. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A).
Paula seeks the full 25% permitted by the statute, which
amounts to $22, 894.50 of her $91, 578.00 past-due benefits
sets the legal framework for awarding attorney's fees
under § 406(b). The district court must “look
first to the contingent-fee agreement” and then
“independently assess the reasonableness of its
terms.” 535 U.S. at 808.
Paula's Contingency Fee Agreement
and Mr. Ritchie signed a written Social Security Fee
Agreement (Agreement) on April 5, 2013. (Dkt. No. 29-1.) The
Agreement provides for the lesser of 25% of all past-due
benefits or $6, 000 for successful representation at
“any administrative level through the first . . . ALJ
decision” after the date of the Agreement. (Id.
¶ 2.) The Agreement also provides for “25% of
all back benefits awarded” for successful
representation before the Appeals Council following an
ALJ's denial. (Id. ¶ 3.) The Agreement,
however, fails to provide for attorneys' fees for
representation in court: “This fee agreement does not
include representation on appeal to the United States
District Court. If I receive an unfavorable decision from the
Social Security Administration and the attorneys agree to
undertake an appeal to the United States District Court, a
new fee agreement must be negotiated.”(Id.
¶ 5.) Because the ...