By Bernie Pazanowski
A law firm that specializes in social security cases is entitled to the entire $40,107 it requested as a contingency fee in a successful case, even though the district court called the $1,556 hourly rate a windfall, the Second Circuit said Friday.
When Jim Fields hired the Law Office of Charles E. Binder and Harry J. Binder LLP in 2011 to represent him in his quest for social securities disability benefits, the parties agreed that the firm would get 25% of any past-due benefits awarded. After multiple administrative hearings and several filings in federal court, Fields was awarded $160,680 in past due benefits and $1,349 a month in future benefits.
Binder & Binder requested their 25% contingency from the Social Security Administration under 42 U.S.C. §406(b), which says that a court may award fees to the attorney who successfully represented the claimant in court.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York pared Binder & Binder’s request to $19,350, which was $750 per hour for the 25.8 hours the firm actually spent preparing for the appearances in the court. The $1,556 rate requested was at the high end of the permissible fee range, while the $750 rate was more in line with the usual rate, it said.
Binder & Binder was entitled to the fees it requested, the opinion by Judge Guido Calabresi said. They were reasonable and not a windfall, it said.
Fields didn’t contest the $40,107 request, which represented Binder & Binder’s expertise in social security claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said. Binder & Binder was able to handle Fields’ case in half the time other reasonably competent attorneys would have needed, it said.
Binder & Binder also represented Fields for years in all the various stages of his claim and knew the case thoroughly, the court said.
The risk involved in Binder & Binder taking the case on a contingency basis, with no guarantee of payment, must also be factored into the award, the court said.
Because Binder & Binder’s claim wasn’t unreasonable, awarding the full fee will promote the policy goal of ensuring that social security claimants have qualified counsel representing them, the court said.
Judges Rosemary S. Pooler and Barrington D. Parker joined the opinion.
Binder & Binder represented itself.
The case is Fields v. Kijakazi, 2d Cir., No. 20-3760-cv, 1/28/22.
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By Bernie Pazanowski