Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Smith v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 8, 2020

JUDY R. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Attorneys for Plaintiff KENNETH R. HILLER, and ELIZABETH ANN HAUNGS, of Counsel.

          JAMES P. KENNEDY, JR. UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorney for Defendant Federal Centre 138 Delaware Avenue Buffalo, and KRISTINA DANIELLE COHN, Special Assistant United States Attorneys, of Counsel Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel and DENNIS J. CANNING, and SCOTT C. KELLER, Special Assistant United States Attorneys, of Counsel Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          LESLIE G. FOSCHIO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         JURISDICTION

         On June 19, 2018, the parties to this action consented pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) to proceed before the undersigned. (Dkt. 7). The matter is presently before the court on Plaintiff's motion for approval of attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), filed November 12, 2019 (Dkt. 23).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action on January 26, 2018, pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Plaintiff's application filed with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), on March 31, 2014, for Social Security Disability Insurance under Title II of the Act (“SSDI” or “disability benefits”). Opposing motions for judgment on the pleadings were filed, Dkt. 8 (Plaintiff's motion), and Dkt. 13 (Defendant's motion), and in a Decision and Order filed June 20, 2019 (Dkt. 17) (“Decision and Order”), judgment on the pleadings was granted by the undersigned in favor of Plaintiff with the matter remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with the Decision and Order. On September 30, 2019, in connection with the remand, Plaintiff applied for and was awarded under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (“EAJA”), $ 7, 662.45 in fees (“EAJA fees”). On October 27, 2019, the SSA issued a Notice of Award granting Plaintiff disability benefits including $ 91, 355.52 in retroactive benefits, of which 25 % or $ 22, 838.88 was withheld to pay attorney fees. On November 12, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant motion pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), seeking $ 22, 838.88 in attorney fees, and indicating the EAJA fees had yet to be received. In response (Dkt. 25), the Commissioner argues an award of $ 22, 838.88 would result in an unreasonable hourly rate but does not otherwise oppose the motion.

         DISCUSSION

         As relevant to the instant motion, the Act provides

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.

42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)(A) (“§ 406”).

         Here, in retaining counsel in connection with her disability benefits application, Plaintiff executed a contingent Fee Agreement[2] providing counsel with permission to apply for fees up to 25% of any retroactive benefits awarded under § 406 if Plaintiff's disability benefits application required litigation in federal court.

         Even if the requested attorney fee does not exceed the statutory 25% cap, “the attorney for the successful claimant must show that the fee sought is reasonable for the services rendered.” Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002). Where, as here, there exists an attorney-client contingent fee agreement, “§ 406 does not displace contingent-fee agreements as the primary means by which fees are set for successfully representing Social Security benefits claimants in court. Rather, § 406(b) call for court review of any such arrangements as an independent check to assure that they yield reasonable results in particular cases.” Id. Contingent fee agreements are also entitled to some deference, Wells v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 367, 371 (2d Cir. 1990), in “the interest in assuring that attorneys continue to represent clients such as the plaintiff.” Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 805. Nevertheless, contingent fee agreements “are unenforceable to the extent that the provide for fees exceeding 25 percent of the past-due benefits.” Id. As such, “[w]ithin the 25 percent boundary . . . the attorney for the successful claimant must show that the fee sought is reasonable for the services rendered.” Id.

         The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has identified three factors to be considered in determining whether to approve the full amount of attorney fees requested under a contingent fee agreement, including (1) whether the requested fee is within the 25% statutory cap; (2) whether there was any fraud or overreaching in making the contingent fee agreement; and (3) whether the requested fee is so large as to be a “windfall” to the attorney. Wells, 907 F.2d at 372. The court is also required to assess whether the requested fee is inconsistent with the character of the legal representation and the results achieved by legal counsel, as well as whether counsel affected any unreasonable delay in the proceedings to increase the retroactive benefits and, consequently, the attorney's own fee. Joslyn v. Barnhart, 389 F.Supp.2d 454, 456 (W.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808). Here, the Commissioner's challenge to the attorney fee request is limited ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.