Lawyer can argue for cost-of-living adjustment for increased fees

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that an attorney that successfully represented a client in a Social Security disability benefits suit should be allowed to make a request for a cost-of-living adjustment that would exceed the maximum $125 per hour that can be awarded under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

Jayne A. Mathews-Sheets’ attorney put in a request under the act for $25,200 in attorney fees. He claimed somewhere between 112-116 hours worked on the case at a rate of $225 an hour. U.S. Judge William Lawrence of the Southern District of Indiana thought the number of hours and amount asked for were excessive, so he cut the hours and the amount the unnamed attorney could request to 53 hours at $125 per hour, the presumptive ceiling under the Equal Access to Justice Act. He awarded $6,625 in fees.

The act says the award “shall be based upon prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of the services furnished, except that . . . attorney fees shall not be awarded in excess of $125 per hour unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living [since 1996, when the current version of the Act was passed] or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys for the proceeding involved, justifies a higher fee.”

The attorney claimed $225 was the prevailing market rate for his services but didn’t provide specifics as to how he came to that number. In his reply brief, he argued for a slightly lower amount. The attorney divided the Consumer Price Index for 2009, when he did most of his work on the case, by the CPI for 1996 when the statutory rate was raised to $125, and multiplied the quotient by $125 to come up with $170 due to inflation.

Judge Lawrence didn’t reject the request for the higher fee based on the weakness of the attorney’s argument, noted 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, but instead said the information submitted in the reply brief had been submitted too late. The federal appellate court found that the judge’s stated reason for rejecting the enhancement was invalid. It wasn’t improper for the attorney to request the cost-of-living increase for the first time in his reply brief.

The judges thought that a fee of $125 for legal services rendered in 2009 in a Social Security disability appeal seemed “awfully low,” and ordered the lower court to take another look at the attorney’s request. But that is all that is allowed on remand – the attorney mentioned nothing other than inflation that could justify a fee award above the statutory presumptive ceiling, wrote Judge Posner in Jayne A. Mathews-Sheets v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, No. 10-3746.

“And so on remand the plaintiff’s lawyer will have to show that without a cost of living increase that would bring the fee award up to $170 per hour, a lawyer capable of competently handling the challenge that his client mounted to the denial of social security disability benefits could not be found in the relevant geographical area to handle such a case,” he wrote.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.