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

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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.
 

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  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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