United States District Court, D. Maryland
John Lee Easton, Jr.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
A. Raab, Esq. has filed a motion for attorney's fees
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42
U.S.C. § 406(b), in conjunction with his representation
of John Lee Easton, Jr. before this Court. ECF 25. In
response, the Commissioner asked this Court to consider
whether Mr. Raab's requested amount constitutes a
reasonable fee. ECF 26. I have considered those filings. No.
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the reasons set forth below, Mr. Raab's motion
for attorney's fees is GRANTED.
case, Mr. Easton, Jr. was awarded $64, 281.00 in past due
benefits, twenty-five percent of which, $16, 070.25, was
withheld to pay attorney's fees in an amount approved by
this Court. ECF 25. Importantly, Mr. Raab was also awarded
$3, 704.24 in attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). ECF 24. Here,
however, no EAJA fee reimbursement is required, because the
Social Security Administration previously garnished the full
$3, 704.24. ECF 25-3; see Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535
U.S. 789, 796 (2002); Stephens ex rel. R.E. v.
Astrue, 565 F.3d 131, 135 (4th Cir. 2009).
authorizes a reasonable fee for successful representation
before this Court, not to exceed twenty-five percent of a
claimant's total past-due benefits. 42 U.S.C. §
406(b). Although contingent fee agreements are the
“primary means by which fees are set” in Social
Security cases, a court must nevertheless perform an
“independent check, to assure that they yield
reasonable results in particular cases.”
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807. In this case, Mr. Raab
and Mr. Easton, Jr. entered into a contingent fee agreement,
by which Mr. Easton, Jr. agreed to pay Mr. Raab twenty-five
percent of all retroactive benefits to which he might become
entitled. ECF 25-4. In a previous motion for attorney's
fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Raab submitted an itemized
report documenting the 19 hours he expended before this Court
in Mr. Easton, Jr.'s case. ECF 22-7. If Mr. Raab receives
the full amount of fees he requests, his fee for
representation before this Court will effectively total
$845.80 per hour. Id. Mr. Raab must therefore show
that an effective rate of $845.80 per hour is reasonable for
the services he rendered. See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
determining whether a request for attorney's fees under
section 406(b) is reasonable, the Supreme Court has explained
that a reviewing court may properly consider the
“character of the representation and the results the
representative received.” Id. In this case,
Mr. Raab's requested fee results in slightly less than
double the top hourly rate that is presumptively reasonable
for attorneys of his experience level pursuant to the
guidelines appended to the Local Rules of this
Court. Courts in the Fourth Circuit have approved
contingency fee agreements that produce similar hourly rates
in successful Social Security appeals. See, e.g.,
Melvin v. Colvin, No. 5:10-CV-160-FL, 2013 WL
3340490 (E.D. N.C. July 2, 2013) (approving contingency fee
agreement with hourly rate of $1, 043.70); Claypool v.
Barnhart, 294 F.Supp.2d 829, 833 (S.D. W.Va. 2003)
(approving contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of $1,
433.12); Lehman v. Colvin, Civil No. SAG-12-2160 (D.
Md. July 7, 2016) (unpublished) (approving contingency fee
agreement with hourly rate of $1, 028.14). Although Mr.
Raab's requested rate exceeds the typical rate awarded by
this Court for attorney's fees in Social Security
appeals, this case presents a set of factual circumstances
which allow me to conclude that the rate is warranted.
respect to the results Mr. Raab's representation
obtained, as in Melvin, upon the filing of Mr.
Easton, Jr.'s motion for summary judgment, (ECF 17), the
Defendant entered into a consent motion for remand to the
Commissioner. ECF 21. Thus, like in Melvin, Mr.
Raab's success in achieving a remand “resulted in a
substantial benefit award for plaintiff, ” and his
“-page memorandum, [ECF 17-2], in support of
plaintiff's motion for [summary] judgment . . .
contain[ed] a thorough analysis of both the facts and law
particular to each of the three distinct issues
raised.” Melvin, 2013 WL 3340490, at *3; ECF
17-2. Had Mr. Raab failed to make a compelling argument on
Mr. Easton, Jr.'s behalf, the Commissioner would have
filed an opposition instead of a consent motion for remand.
See Melvin, 2013 WL 3340490, at *3.
to the character of Mr. Raab's representation, I note
that Mr. Raab's performance in this case was both highly
effective and highly efficient. Mr. Easton, Jr. obtained a
finding of disability as a result of Mr. Raab's dedicated
effort over the nearly seventeen (17) months it took to
complete the appeal. There is “no doubt” that Mr.
Raab's thirty-plus years of experience in handling social
security cases “contributed to the uncontested remand
[he] achieved for plaintiff.” Id. Likewise,
completing the proceedings in less than a year and a half,
Mr. Raab “has not delayed proceedings so as to increase
the amount of past-due benefits.” Id. Thus,
the award need not be reduced due to any delay in the
litigation. See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808;
Bowser v. Astrue, No. PWG-09-969, 2011 WL 673767, at
*2 (D. Md. Feb. 17, 2011). Finally, I note that, in addition
to the parties' fee agreement, Mr. Easton, Jr. submitted
an affidavit to the Court confirming that he assigned all
“right, title and interest in any attorney fee that may
be awarded” unto his attorney, Mr. Raab. ECF 22-3;
see Bowser, 2011 WL 673767, at *3 (according
“some weight” to the claimant's consent to
the fee requested). Indeed, “Social Security
representation operates largely on a contingency fee basis,
” Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 804, which
“provide[s] access to counsel for individuals, ”
like Mr. Easton, Jr., “who would otherwise have
difficulty obtaining representation, ” In re Abrams
& Abrams, P.A., 605 F.3d 238, 245 (4th Cir.
2010). Accordingly, given Mr. Raab's extensive experience
and the unique circumstances of this case, the fee requested
by Mr. Raab is reasonable.
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Raab's motion for
attorney's fees (ECF 25) will be GRANTED for $16, 070.25.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
 Although they do not govern Social
Security cases, the Local Rules prescribe guidelines for
determining attorneys' fees in certain cases, which are
instructive in evaluating the reasonableness of the effective
hourly rate in this case. See Loc. R. App'x B
(D. Md. 2016). For attorneys admitted to the bar for a period
of twenty (20) years or more, the ...