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Moriarty v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 20, 2015

MARSHALL T. MORIARTY, ESQ., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant, Appellee

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Kenneth P. Neiman, Magistrate Judge.

Richard I. Greenberg for appellant.

Karen L. Goodwin, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, and Hugh Dun Rappaport, Assistant Regional Counsel, Social Security Administration, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lynch and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 665

LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

As an incentive to attorneys to bring Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), for more than a decade, has paid directly to qualified attorneys a fee of no more than twenty-five percent of the successful recovery of past-due benefits to clients. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(d)(2)(B). When the federal government administers state supplementary payments for the state, that amount of state payments is included in " past-due benefits." See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1503. But when the state chooses to administer its own payments, the state amounts are not included as " past-due benefits" for the purpose of attorney compensation. See id.

So when Massachusetts chose in 2012 to administer its own benefits, rather than rely on federal administration of its supplementary payments as it had done in the past, that had the effect of reducing the fees paid to attorneys representing Massachusetts SSI claimants. The attorney here argues that the Commissioner cannot exclude state-administered state supplementary payments from the amount included in " past-due benefits." Giving deference

Page 666

to the agency, as we must, we conclude the Commissioner can do so.

We may and do make the assumption that we have federal appellate jurisdiction. We affirm the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Commissioner.

I.

Attorney Marshall Moriarty represented a client in a claim for SSI benefits before the SSA in 2012. Moriarty and his client had entered into an agreement in June 2012, providing that, subject to the SSA's approval, " if SSA favorably decides the claim(s)," Moriarty would receive " a fee equal to the lesser of 25% or the maximum allowable fee that, as of the date of this agreement, is $6000.00."

In 2013, Moriarty's client received a partially favorable decision, in which the SSA granted him $16,699.02 in federal and federally-administered state back payments. This amount included federal SSI payments the client was owed from November 2010 through April 2013 as well as Massachusetts state supplementary payments from November 2010 through March 2012 -- the time period during which Massachusetts's state supplementary payments[1] were federally administered. However, in April 2012, Massachusetts changed its practice and began administering its own program of ...


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