KATRINA F. WOOD, Plaintiff-Appellant,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant-Appellee. CELALETTIN AKARCAY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant-Appellee. BILL J. WESTFALL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant-Appellee. DARLEEN R. SCHUSTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, RICHARD ALLEN CULBERTSON, Petitioner-Appellant,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Middle District
of Florida D.C. Docket Nos. 6:13-cv-01336-KRS,
6:12-cv-00915-DAB, 6:12-cv-01882-KRS, 6:14-cv-00784-DAB
MARTIN, JILL PRYOR, and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.
MARTIN, Circuit Judge:
Culbertson was counsel to the four plaintiffs shown in the
caption here, who asked for and were awarded Social Security
disability benefits. This appeal consolidates the four cases,
and it is about attorney's fees for Mr. Culbertson. To
his credit, Mr. Culbertson represented Katrina Wood,
Celalettin Akarcay, Bill Westfall, and Darleen Schuster
(together, the "claimants") in their successful
challenge to the Commissioner of Social Security's
decision to deny them disability benefits. After winning for
these clients, Mr. Culbertson asked the District Court to
award him attorney's fees in all four cases.
statutes govern fees paid to lawyers representing Social
Security claimants. First, 42 U.S.C. § 406 allows the
Commissioner to set a fee for representation of the claimant
at the administrative level, id. § 406(a), and
the District Court to set a fee for representation of the
claimant in court, id. § 406(b). Second, a
claimant can request fees under the Equal Access to Justice
Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). In this
appeal, Mr. Culbertson argues that the District Court did not
correctly calculate the fees he is entitled to under these
statutes and Eleventh Circuit precedent. After careful
consideration, and with the benefit of oral argument, we
affirm the decisions of the District Court.
Culbertson represented all four of the captioned plaintiffs
in appealing the Commissioner's denial of disability
benefits to them. He was successful in all four appeals. We
will set out a narrative about each of the cases, which is
summarized in a chart in section I.E. A. MS. WOOD
District Court reversed the Commissioner's denial of
benefits to Ms. Wood, then remanded her case to the
Commissioner. The court later awarded Ms. Wood $4, 107.27 in
attorney's fees under the EAJA. On remand, the
Commissioner awarded Ms. Wood past-due benefits of $30, 871
and awarded her child $4, 340 as an auxiliary beneficiary. As
is customary, the Commissioner withheld 25% of the total
award ($8, 595.75) to pay attorney's fees. The
Commissioner also awarded Mr. Culbertson $2, 865 under §
406(a) for representing Ms. Wood at the administrative level.
Culbertson asked the District Court for attorney's fees
of $4, 488.48 under § 406(b) for representing Ms. Wood
in court. He calculated this figure by subtracting the EAJA
award from the 25% of the past-due benefits the Commissioner
withheld. The court granted Mr. Culbertson's request in
part, but limited his award to $1, 623.48. The court declined
to pay the full amount requested by Mr. Culbertson because it
found he failed to subtract the earlier § 406(a) award
in calculating his fees.
Ms. Wood's case, the District Court reversed the
Commissioner's denial of benefits to Mr. Akarcay and
remanded the case back to the Commissioner. The District
Court later awarded Mr. Akarcay $3, 121.70 in attorney's
fees under the EAJA. On remand, the Commissioner awarded Mr.
Akarcay past-due benefits of $69, 047, withholding the usual
25% ($17, 261.75) for attorney's fees.
Culbertson asked the District Court for permission to charge
Mr. Akarcay $14, 140.05 in attorney's fees under §
406(b), which was the amount withheld minus the EAJA award.
The court denied Mr. Culbertson's request. The District
Court reasoned that it could not determine the proper §
406(b) fee award without first knowing the attorney's fee
award the Commissioner would grant under § 406(a). The
District Court directed Mr. Culbertson to file a renewed
motion after the Commissioner determined the § 406(a)
the others, the District Court reversed the
Commissioner's denial of disability benefits to Ms.
Schuster. The court remanded the case back to the
Commissioner and later awarded Ms. Schuster $4, 988.17 in
EAJA attorney's fees. On remand, the Commissioner awarded
Ms. Schuster past-due benefits of $54, 382, withholding 25%
of the award ($13, 595.50) for attorney's fees.
Culbertson sought $10, 707.08
in attorney's fees under § 406(b). The District
Court denied Mr. Culbertson's request, again reasoning
that it could not decide the proper § 406(b) fee award
until the Commissioner awarded attorney's fees under
§ 406(a). The District Court noted Mr. Culbertson could
file a renewed motion after the § 406(a) fees were set.
in Mr. Westfall's case, the District Court reversed the
Commissioner's denial of disability benefits to him. The
court remanded the case to the Commissioner, and awarded Mr.
Westfall $2, 713.30 in EAJA attorney's fees. On remand,
the Commissioner awarded Mr. Westfall ...