United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
LETTER TO COUNSEL
A. Melanson, Esq. has filed a motion for attorney's fees
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42
U.S.C. § 406(b), in conjunction with his representation
of Plaintiff before this Court. ECF 25. In response, the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) asked this
Court to consider whether Mr. Melanson's requested amount
constitutes a reasonable fee. ECF 30. On January 8, 2019, Mr.
Melanson filed a reply. ECF 31. No. hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set
forth below, Mr. Melanson's motion for attorney's
fees is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
March 19, 2018, this Court awarded Mr. Melanson $3, 700.00
for 19.00 hours worked on Plaintiff's case in federal
court, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF 22, 24.
Plaintiff subsequently received an Award Notice, in which he
was awarded $88, 463.00 in past due benefits. ECF 25-2. The
SSA withheld twenty-five percent of Plaintiff's past due
benefits, amounting to $22, 115.75. Id. at 3. On
November 21, 2018, Mr. Melanson filed a Motion for
Attorney's Fees, seeking $22, 115.75 in attorney's
fees. ECF 25. As the $3, 700 EAJA award was garnished from
Plaintiff and not collected by Mr. Melanson, any award of
attorney's fees need not be reduced by the EAJA amount.
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 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
achieved.” Id. at 808. Importantly, the
Supreme Court acknowledged that a contingent fee agreement
would not result in a reasonable fee if the fee constituted a
“windfall” to the attorney. Id. Courts
may require the attorney to provide a record of hours spent
working on the case, and the attorney's typical hourly
billing charge. Id.
Mr. Melanson and Plaintiff entered into a contingent fee
agreement, by which Plaintiff agreed to pay Mr. Melanson
twenty-five percent of all retroactive benefits to which he
might become entitled. ECF 22-3. In his previous motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Melanson
submitted an itemized report documenting the 19.00 billed
hours he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's case.
ECF 22-7 (listing a total of 20.00 hours, 1 of which was
spent on clerical and administrative tasks marked “NO
CHARGE”). If Mr. Melanson receives the full amount of
fees he requests, his fee for representation before this
Court will effectively total $1, 163.99 per hour. Mr.
Melanson must therefore show that an effective rate of $1,
163.99 per hour is reasonable for the services he rendered.
See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
Mr. Melanson's requested fee results in more than five
times the top hourly rate that is presumptively reasonable
for attorneys of his experience level pursuant to the fee
guidelines appended to the Local Rules of this Court,
more than three times his stated hourly billing charge of
$300, ECF 22-6. Although it is customary in Social Security
cases for courts to approve significantly higher rates, Mr.
Melanson's requested rate exceeds the typical rates
awarded by courts in the Fourth Circuit for attorney's
fees in successful Social Security appeals, even to attorneys
with more experience. See, e.g., Melvin v.
Colvin, No. 5:10-CV-160-FL, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92832
(E.D. N.C. July 2, 2013) (approving contingency fee agreement
with hourly rate of $1, 043.92); Lehman v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-10-2160, 2016 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 186022 (D. Md. July 7, 2016) (approving contingency fee
agreement with hourly rate of $1, 028.14). Hourly rates
exceeding $1, 000 are the exception, not the rule. While this
Court notes Mr. Melanson's effective performance and the
substantial past-due benefit award to his client, Mr.
Melanson's request for $22, 115.75 for 19.00 hours in
this case would result in a windfall. Instead, this Court
finds that an award of $14, 250.00, amounting to an hourly
rate of $750.00-more than triple the top hourly rate for an
attorney of Mr. Melanson's experience, would adequately
compensate Mr. Melanson for the time that he spent on this
case in this Court. See Hunter v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., Civil No. SAG-15-3758, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
221544 (D. Md. Nov. 16, 2017) (approving contingency fee
agreement with hourly rate of $1, 140.41, while noting that
the requested rate was “slightly more than triple the
top hourly rate” for an attorney with eleven years of
reasons set forth herein, this Court GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART Mr. Melanson's request for attorney's
fees, ECF 25. This Court will award Mr. Melanson
attorney's fees totaling $14, 250.00.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
 Currently, the position of
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is vacant,
and most duties are fulfilled by Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy
Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and
functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social
 Although they do not govern Social
Security cases, the Local Rules prescribe guidelines for
determining attorney's fees in certain cases, which are
instructive in evaluating the reasonableness of the effective
hourly rate in this case. See Loc. R. App. B (D. Md.
2018). For attorneys admitted to the bar for a period of less
than five (5) years, like Mr. Melanson, ECF 22-6, the