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Cole v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 8, 2017

WILLIAM COLE on behalf of Barbara Cole, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON Attorney for Defendant

          STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ.

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant

          KAREN T. CALLAHAN, ESQ.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On February 23, 2015, Plaintiff William Cole commenced suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking a review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny Barbara Cole's application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Dkt. No. 1.[1] The case was remanded to the Commissioner, and an Administrative Law Judge issued a partially favorable decision. Dkt. No. 13-1 ¶¶ 11-12. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for an award of attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). See Dkt. No. 13. The Commissioner has not opposed the motion. Dkt. No. 15 at 3.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On April 26, 2012, Barbara Cole filed an application with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") for disability insurance benefits, which was denied. Dkt. No. 13-1 ¶ 6. Cole requested a hearing with an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and the ALJ ultimately issued an unfavorable decision. Id. ¶ 7. After the Appeals Council denied Cole's request for review of the ALJ's decision, William Cole timely commenced an action in this Court seeking review of the final agency decision. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10. On August 26, 2015, the parties entered into a consent order remanding the case to the Commissioner for further administrative action. Dkt. No. 11. On remand, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision and granted benefits from February 12, 2010, through September 12, 2014, the day that Barbara Cole died. Dkt. No. 13-3 at 17.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A) provides as follows:

Whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant under this subchapter who was represented before the court by an attorney, the court may determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee for such representation, not in excess of 25 percent of the total of the past-due benefits to which the claimant is entitled by reason of such judgment . . .

         Thus, the plaintiff's attorneys must obtain court approval of their fees and have the court determine that their requested fees are reasonable and should be awarded. See Wells v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 367, 372 (2d Cir. 1990); see also Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 808-09 (2002) (endorsing the 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) fee determination approach established by the Second Circuit in Wells stating "Section 406(b) calls for court review of such arrangements as an independent check, to assure that they yield reasonable results in particular cases"). In determining the reasonableness of a fee the Supreme Court stated "[c]ourts that approach fee determinations by looking first to the contingent-fee agreement, then testing it for ...


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