Costa v. Commissioner SSA

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Attorney Fees
  • Date Filed: 08-24-2012
  • Case #: 11-35245
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam; Circuit Judges Fletcher and Pregerson; District Judge Marshall.
  • Full Text Opinion

A judge is required to give specific justifications for reducing lawyer fee awards when such reductions are a sizable amount of the final award, contrary to informal policies stating otherwise and regardless of the routine nature of the case.

Social Security Administration denied Costa’s application for disability benefits. Costa sought review in the district court. The federal magistrate judge remanded the case to the agency and partially granted Costa’s request for reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act. The magistrate judge reduced the fee award under an informal rule limiting such awards in social security cases, from 60.5 to 41.1. In lowering counsel’s work hours on Costa’s opening memorandum, the magistrate judge failed to give reasons why “12 hours was a reasonable amount of time.” For other limitations of the fee award, the magistrate judge relied on a published order, which stated “that 20-40 hours is a reasonable amount of time to spend on a social security case that does not present particular difficulty.” The Supreme Court has held that courts should apply the lodestar method to determine reasonable attorney’s fees- multiple “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation. . . by a reasonable hourly rate.” Based on the uncertainty of contingency fee cases, courts should defer to the lawyer’s professional judgment regarding how much time was required, but allowing for a 10% “haircut” by the court without explanation. However, where a cutback is sizable, such as 25%, a court is required to give specific explanations as to why. Individualized consideration must be given rather than the de facto cap placed on attorney compensation. It was also “an abuse of discretion to apply a de facto policy limiting social security claimants to twenty to forty hours of attorney time in routine cases.” The magistrate judge made cuts to the requested hours as to reduce the number to fit near the 40 hour outer limit, rather than by examining the legal services provided and reducing redundant or unreasonable work charged to the client. REVERSED and REMANDED.

Advanced Search