Culbertson v. Berryhill, 586 U.S. ___ (2019)

Justia Opinion Summary and Annotations

For representation in administrative proceedings, the Social Security Act provides that if a fee agreement exists, fees are capped at the lesser of 25% of past-due benefits or a set dollar amount—currently $6,000, 42 U.S.C. 406(a)(2)(A); absent an agreement, the agency may set any “reasonable” fee, section 406(a)(1). In either case, the agency is required to withhold up to 25% of past-due benefits for direct payment of fees. For representation in court proceedings, section 406(b) caps fees at 25% of past-due benefits; the agency may withhold benefits to pay these fees.

Culbertson represented Wood in Social Security disability benefit proceedings before the agency and in court. The agency ultimately awarded Wood past-due benefits, withheld 25%, and awarded Culbertson fees under section 406(a) for representation before the agency. Culbertson sought a separate award under 406(b) for the court proceedings, requesting 25% of past-due benefits. The Eleventh Circuit held that 406(b)’s 25% limit applies to the total fees awarded under both sections.

The Supreme Court reversed. Section 406(b)(1)(A)’s 25% cap applies only to fees for court representation, not to the aggregate fees awarded under 406(a) and (b). The subsections address different stages of the representation and use different methods for calculating fees. Applying 406(b)’s 25% cap on court-stage fees to 406(a) agency-stage fees, or the aggregate fees, would make little sense and would subject 406(a)(1)’s reasonableness limitation to 406(b)’s 25% cap—a limitation not included in the statute. The fact that the agency presently withholds a single pool of past-due benefits for payment of fees does not support an aggregate reading. The amount of past-due benefits that the agency can withhold for payment does not delimit the amount of fees that can be approved for representation before the agency or the court.

Annotation

Primary Holding

Social Security Act section 406(b)(1)(A)’s 25% cap applies only to fees for court representation, not to the aggregate fees awarded under sections 406(a) and (b) for representation before the agency and before the court.
September 5, 2017 Application (17A279) to extend the time to file a petition for a writ of certiorari from September 24, 2017 to November 23, 2017, submitted to Justice Thomas.
September 15, 2017 Application (17A279) granted by Justice Thomas extending the time to file until November 23, 2017.
November 21, 2017 Pursuant to Rule 34.6 and Paragraph 9 of the Guidelines for the Submission of Documents to the Supreme Court’s Electronic Filing System, filings in this case should be submitted in paper form only, and should not be submitted through the Court’s electronic filing system.
November 21, 2017 Petition for a writ of certiorari filed. (Response due December 27, 2017)
December 20, 2017 Motion to extend the time to file a response from December 27, 2017 to January 26, 2018, submitted to The Clerk.
December 21, 2017 Motion to extend the time to file a response is granted and the time is extended to and including January 26, 2018
January 25, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file a response is granted and the time is further extended to and including March 8, 2018.
January 25, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file a response from January 26, 2018 to March 8, 2018, submitted to The Clerk.
March 5, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file a response from March 8, 2018 to March 22, 2018, submitted to The Clerk.
March 6, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file a response is granted and the time is further extended to and including March 22, 2018.
March 20, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file a response from March 22, 2018 to April 5, 2018, submitted to The Clerk.
March 21, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file a response is granted and the time is extended to and including April 5, 2018.
April 3, 2018 Letter of March 30, 2018, received from counsel for the petitioner.
April 5, 2018 Brief of respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration filed.
April 13, 2018 Letter waiving the 14-day waiting period for the filing of a reply pursuant to Rule 15.5 received.
April 18, 2018 DISTRIBUTED for Conference of 5/10/2018.
May 14, 2018 DISTRIBUTED for Conference of 5/17/2018.
May 21, 2018 Petition GRANTED.
May 21, 2018 As Rule 34.6 provides, “If the Court schedules briefing and oral argument in a case that was governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(c) or Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 49.1(c), the parties shall submit electronic versions of all prior and subsequent filings with this Court in the case, subject to [applicable] redaction rules.” Subsequent party and amicus filings in the case should now be submitted through the Court’s electronic filing system, with any necessary redactions.
May 24, 2018 Blanket Consent filed by Petitioner, Richard Culbertson.
May 25, 2018 Amy Weil, Esquire, of Atlanta, Georgia, is invited to brief and argue this case, as amicus curiae, in support of the judgment below.
July 3, 2018 Motion to extend the time to file the briefs on the merits granted. The time to file the joint appendix, petitioner's brief on the merits, and respondent's brief in support is extended to and including July 16, 2018. The time to file the brief of Court-appointed amicus curiae in support of the judgment below is extended to and including September 7, 2018.
July 3, 2018 Any amicus briefs in support of the judgment below are due within 7 days after the filing of the brief of Court-appointed amicus curiae in support of the judgment below.
July 3, 2018 Motion for an extension of time to file the briefs on the merits filed.
July 16, 2018 Joint appendix filed.
July 16, 2018 Brief of petitioner Richard Culbertson filed.
July 16, 2018 Brief of respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration in support of reversal and remand filed.
July 23, 2018 Amicus brief of National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives not accepted for filing. (July 25, 2018) - To be resubmitted with required documents.)
July 23, 2018 Brief amicus curiae of National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives in support of neither party filed.
August 13, 2018 Motion of Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration for divided argument submitted.
August 13, 2018 Motion for divided argument filed by respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration.
August 20, 2018 SET FOR ARGUMENT on Wednesday, November 7, 2018
September 6, 2018 Amicus brief of Court-appointed amicus curiae in support of the judgment below submitted.
Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.

Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.