Andrew M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee, v. Young Cho, Real-party-in-interest-Appellant.
Decided: December 11, 2020
Before: KELLY,** GOULD, and R. NELSON, Circuit Judges.
Lawrence David Rohlfing, Attorney, Young Chul Cho, Attorney, Law Offices of Lawrence Rohlfing, Santa Fe Springs, CA, for Plaintiff-Appellant Michael K, Marriott, Esquire, Assistant Regional Counsel, Paul Sachelari, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, San Francisco, CA, for Defendants-Appellees
Real-party-in-interest Young Cho appeals from the reduction of his attorney's fees award in this successful social security benefits case. He argues that the district court abused its discretion by using a lodestar rate of $1,145 to calculate a fee of $16,000, rather than $20,000 as requested. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292, and we affirm.
Counsel that successfully represents a social security claimant may be awarded by the district court “a reasonable fee for such representation, not in excess of 25 percent of the total of the past-due benefits” awarded to the claimant. 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A). Where an attorney represents a claimant pursuant to a contingency fee agreement, that agreement is the starting point for the district court's reasonableness determination. Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 808, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 152 L.Ed.2d 996 (2002); see also Crawford v. Astrue, 586 F.3d 1142, 1148 (9th Cir. 2009) (en banc). Even where counsel requests a fee within the 25 percent limit, the district court is required to undertake an “independent check” to determine whether the requested fee is reasonable “based on the character of the representation and the results the representative achieved.” Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807–08, 122 S.Ct. 1817.
We review for abuse of discretion the amount of a fee award under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) and legal questions de novo. Parrish v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 698 F.3d 1215, 1219 (9th Cir. 2012). Here, the district court correctly began with the contingency fee agreement and examined the character of Mr. Cho's representation and the results achieved. The district court determined that the case was simple compared to other social security cases and that the size of the recovery was “excessively large in comparison to the hours [Mr. Cho] spent” on the case. In reaching this conclusion, the district court properly examined the risk and complexity of the case and discussed various hourly rates in comparable cases. The district court appropriately considered these hourly rate calculations “not as a basis for satellite litigation, but as an aid to the court's assessment of the reasonableness of the fee yielded by the fee agreement.” Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808, 122 S.Ct. 1817.
After determining that the fee was unreasonable in light of the nature and results of the representation, the district court appropriately reduced the fee to $16,000. We disagree with the Appellant's contention that the district court began with a maximum hourly rate and failed to give adequate weight to the character of the representation, the results achieved, or the reduction Mr. Cho had already made. The district court provided a “concise but clear explanation of its reasons” for awarding a reduced fee, as it was required to do. Crawford, 586 F.3d at 1152. Considering the “highly respectful review” to which the district court's reasonableness determination is entitled, Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808, 122 S.Ct. 1817, the district court did not err in awarding Mr. Cho a reduced fee under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A).
Was this helpful?
Response sent, thank you
Welcome to FindLaw's Cases & Codes
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.