United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
A. Melanson, Esq. has filed a line requesting 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 23. In
response, the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) asked this Court to consider whether Mr.
Melanson's requested amount constitutes a reasonable fee.
ECF 24. Mr. Melanson did not file a reply. 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.
6, 2018, this Court awarded Mr. Melanson $3, 000.00 for 15.00
hours worked on Plaintiff's case in federal court,
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF 19, 22.
Plaintiff subsequently received an Award Notice, in which he
was awarded $77, 595.50 in past due benefits. ECF 23-2. The
SSA withheld twenty-five percent of Plaintiff's past due
benefits, amounting to $19, 398.87. Id. at 2. On
April 12, 2019, Mr. Melanson filed a Line for Attorney's
Fees, seeking $19, 398.87. ECF 23. Mr. Melanson agrees to
reimburse Plaintiff the $3, 000 he received in EAJA fees.
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 19-3. In his previous motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Melanson
submitted an itemized report documenting the 15.00 billed
hours he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's case.
ECF 19-7 (listing a total of 15.85 hours, with 0.85 marked
“NO CHARGE” for clerical and administrative
tasks). If Mr. Melanson receives the full amount of fees he
requests, his fee for representation before this Court will
effectively total $1, 293.26 per hour. Mr. Melanson must
therefore show that an effective rate of $1, 293.26 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 four times his stated hourly billing charge of
$300, ECF 19-6. 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 $19, 398.87 for 15.00 hours in
this case would result in a windfall. Instead, this Court
finds that an award of $11, 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 23. This Court will award Mr. Melanson
attorney's fees totaling $11, 250.00, and Mr. Melanson
should reimburse to Plaintiff the $3, 000 he received
pursuant to the EAJA.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
 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 19-6, the