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535 U. S. ____ (2002)

This case concerns the fees that may be awarded attorneys who successfully represent Social Security benefits claimants in court. Under 42 U. S. C. �406(b) (1994 ed. and Supp. V),*fn1 a prevailing claimant’s fees are payable only out of the benefits recovered; in amount, such fees may not exceed 25 percent of past-due benefits. At issue is a question that has sharply divided the Federal Courts of Appeals: What is the appropriate starting point for judicial determinations of “a reasonable fee for [representation before the court]“? See ibid. Is the contingent-fee agreement between claimant and counsel, if not in excess of 25 percent of past-due benefits, presumptively reasonable? Or should courts begin with a lodestar calculation (hours reasonably spent on the case times reasonable hourly rate) of the kind we have approved under statutes that shift the obligation to pay to the loser in the litigation? See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U. S. 424, 426 (1983) (interpreting Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U. S. C. �1988, which allows a “prevailing party” to recover from his adversary “a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Congress, we conclude, designed �406(b) to control, not to displace, fee agreements between Social Security benefits claimants and their counsel. Because the decision before us for review rests on lodestar calculations and rejects the primacy of lawful attorney-client fee agreements, we reverse the judgment below and remand for recalculation of counsel fees payable from the claimants’ past-due benefits.

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