Clinic Brings Attorneys' Fees Case to Supreme Court

Culbertson v. Berryhill Will Interpret Federal Law Governing Social Security Representation
Supreme Court Litigation Clinic

The 2017-18 Supreme Court Litigation Clinic most recently argued City of Hays v. Vogt in February. A decision in the case is still pending.

May 21, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a University of Virginia School of Law clinic case that could impact how attorneys’ fees are awarded and collected when clients with Social Security claims are represented before the agency.

The high court granted cert on Monday in Culbertson v. Berryhill. The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic filed on behalf of attorney Richard A. Culbertson, who represented clients before the Social Security Administration and in U.S. district court.

Federal law places a 25-percent cap on attorney fees related to representing individuals claiming Social Security benefits. The question before the justices is whether the law applies only to fees for court representation, as three federal appeals courts have held, or also fees for representation before the agency, as three other appeals courts have held.

Culbertson argues that the court did not correctly calculate the fees he is entitled to under federal statutes. The case rose to the Supreme Court’s attention after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled against Culbertson last year.

“The case jumped out because there was a clear circuit split, the issue makes a real difference in helping people find attorneys willing to help them, and the 11th Circuit seemed wrong on the law,” said Professor Daniel Ortiz, the clinic’s director. “If we win, it will make it easier for Social Security claimants to find lawyers willing to help them.”

Ortiz will present oral argument and expects the case to be heard in November or December.

Also Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, another clinic case.

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