United States District Court, D. Maryland
Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration,
pending is Vincent J. Piazza's Petition for
Attorney's Fees (“Petition”) pursuant to the
Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
406(b) and § 1383(d)(2), which seeks fees for
counsel's representation of plaintiff before this court.
(ECF No. 24). In response, defendant takes no position on
plaintiff's Petition, but requests that the court
consider whether Mr. Piazza's requested amount
constitutes a reasonable fee. (ECF No. 25). I have reviewed
the pleadings and the record in this case and find that no
hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons noted
below, Mr. Piazza's Petition is GRANTED.
November 28, 2018, this court awarded Mr. Piazza $4, 070.00
for his work on plaintiff's case in federal court,
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (ECF No. 23).
Plaintiff was subsequently awarded $47, 448.00 in past-due
benefits. (ECF No. 24-3). Twenty-five percent of
plaintiff's past-due benefits amounts to $11, 862.00.
Id. On November 8, 2019, Mr. Piazza filed his
Petition seeking attorney's fees in the amount of $11,
Act authorizes a reasonable fee for successful representation
before this [c]ourt, not to exceed twenty-five percent of a
claimant's total past-due benefits.” Dewain S.
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-17-716,
2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5281 at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 11, 2019)
(citing 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.'”
Id. (quoting 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.
(quoting Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. 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
Mr. Piazza and plaintiff entered into a contingent fee
arrangement and plaintiff agreed that, if his claim was
allowed, the fee for services rendered in this case will be
twenty-five percent (25%) of all retroactive benefits to
which plaintiff may become entitled. (ECF No. 24-1). In his
previous Motion for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the EAJA
(ECF No. 21), Mr. Piazza submitted an itemized report
documenting the 22.00 billed hours he expended before this
court in plaintiff's case. (ECF No. 21-2). If the court
awards Mr. Piazza the full amount of fees requested, his fee
for representation before this court will effectively total
$539.18 per hour. Accordingly, Mr. Piazza must establish that
an effective rate of $539.18 per hour is reasonable for the
services he rendered. See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at
Mr. Piazza's requested fee is higher than 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[, ] . . . it is customary in
Social Security cases for courts to approve significantly
higher rates.” Flores v. Comm'r, Civil No.
SAG-12-3316, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57446, at *5 (D. Md. Apr. 4,
2018). “Courts in the Fourth Circuit have approved
contingency fee agreements that produce much higher hourly
rates in successful Social Security appeals.” Terri
H. v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin, Civil No.
SAG-16-3106, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17095 at *3-4 (D. Md. Feb. 4,
2019) (collecting cases). Notably, in Flores, the
court found that an effective rate of $1, 425.00 per hour,
“or triple the hourly rate under the fee guidelines for
an attorney of like experience, ” was reasonable for an
attorney with over twenty years of experience.
Flores, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57446, at *5.
Similarly, here, after consideration of factors such as the
overall complexity of the case, the lawyering skills
necessary to handle it effectively, the risks involved, and
the significance of the result achieved in district court,
Mudd v. Barnhart, 418 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir.
2005)), I find that the requested fee is reasonable and
should be approved.
reasons noted above, Mr. Piazza's Petition (ECF No. 24)
is GRANTED and Mr. Piazza is awarded attorney's fees
totaling $11, 862.00. Mr. Piazza is directed to reimburse to
plaintiff the $4, 070.00 in fees he received pursuant to the
the informal nature of this letter, it will constitute an
Order of the court and will be docketed accordingly. An
implementing order follows.
P. Gesner Chief United States Magistrate Judge
 “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.” Dewain
S., 2019 LEXIS 5281, at *3 n. 2 (citing Loc. R. App. B.
(D. Md. 2018)). Mr. Piazza has now been practicing for
twenty-eight years (ECF No. 24 at 2) and presumptively
reasonable hourly rates ...