United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
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
Commissioner asked this Court to consider whether Mr.
Melanson's requested amount constitutes a reasonable fee.
ECF 26. 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.
Court awarded Mr. Melanson a total of $5, 200.00 for 28.00
hours worked on Plaintiff's case in federal court,
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF 24.
Plaintiff subsequently received an Award Notice, which
indicates that $20, 447.25 has been withheld for
attorney's fees. ECF 25-2 at 5. On November 21, 2019, Mr.
Melanson filed a Motion in this Court, seeking $20, 447.25 in
attorney's fees (less $6, 000.00 already paid in
administrative fees). ECF 25. Mr. Melanson has agreed to
reimburse Plaintiff in the amount of fees previously
received. Id.; 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. (quoting
Rodriquez v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 739, 746-47 (6th Cir.
1989)). 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 she
might become entitled. ECF 22-3. In his previous motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Melanson
submitted itemized reports documenting 28.00 chargeable hours
he expended before this Court in Plaintiff's case. ECF
22-7 (listing a total of 28.50 hours, 0.50 of which were
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 $515.97 per hour. Therefore, Mr.
Melanson must show that an effective rate of $515.97 per hour
is reasonable for the services he rendered. See
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
Mr. Melanson's typical hourly billing rate is $300.00,
ECF 22-6 ¶ 6, which is also 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. Courts in the Fourth Circuit have approved
contingency fee agreements that produce much higher 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, 043.92);
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. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., Civil No. SAG-10-2160 (D. Md. July 7, 2016)
(unpublished) (approving contingency fee agreement with
hourly rate of $1, 028.14). This Court has routinely approved
a higher hourly rate for Mr. Melanson. See Makeita H. v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. SAG-17-1643 (D. Md.
Aug. 2, 2019); Craig C. v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. SAG-17-2782 (D. Md. May 10, 2019);
Dewain S. v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
SAG-17-0716 (D. Md. Jan. 11, 2019). Thus, the requested fee
in this case is reasonable and should be approved.
reasons set forth herein, this Court GRANTS Mr.
Melanson's motion seeking attorney's fees, ECF 25.
This Court will award Mr. Melanson attorney's fees
totaling $14, 447.25. Mr. Melanson is directed to reimburse
to Plaintiff the fees he received pursuant to the EAJA.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
Deborah L. Boardman United States Magistrate Judge
 The Commissioner acknowledges that the
Notice of Award does not specify the amount of
Plaintiff's past due benefits and does not contest that
$20, 447.25 is 25% of Plaintiff's award. ECF 26 at
 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). Currently, Mr. Melanson has over five years of
experience, ECF 22-6, and the presumptively reasonable hourly
rate for attorneys admitted to ...