Argued: June 19, 2019
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western
District of New York
appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court
for the Western District of New York (Wolford, J.)
denying a successful Social Security claimant's 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b) application for attorney's fees as
untimely, appellant challenges the application of the
fourteen-day filing period prescribed by Fed.R.Civ.P.
54(d)(2)(B) to § 406(b) attorney's fee motions.
Melissa A. Palmer (Howard D. Olinsky, Olinsky Law Group, on
the brief), for Plaintiff- Appellant.
Heetano Shamsoondar, for James P. Kennedy, Jr., United States
Attorney, Western District of New York, for Defendant-
Before: Cabranes, Raggi, and Droney, Circuit Judges.
Raggi, Circuit Judge
Lakisha Janey Sinkler, who successfully litigated her claim
to supplemental Social Security income, now appeals from a
judgment of the United States District Court for the Western
District of New York (Elizabeth A. Wolford, Judge),
denying as untimely her application for attorney's fees
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b). See Sinkler v.
Berryhill, 305 F.Supp.3d 448, 453-59 (W.D.N.Y. 2018),
reconsideration denied 317 F.Supp.3d 687 (W.D.N.Y.
2018). Specifically, Sinkler challenges the district
court's application of Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(B)'s
fourteen-day filing period to her fee application, arguing in
favor of an unspecified "reasonable" period
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Our sister circuits are
divided on the question of which of these two rules of
procedure properly determines the timeliness of § 406(b)
fee applications. Compare Walker v. Astrue, 593 F.3d
274, 280 (3d Cir. 2010) (applying Rule 54), Pierce v.
Barnhart, 440 F.3d 657, 663 (5th Cir. 2006) (same),
and Bergen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 454 F.3d
1273, 1277 (11th Cir. 2006) (same), with McGraw v.
Barnhart, 450 F.3d 493, 505 (10th Cir. 2006) (applying
Rule 60(b)). Today, we join those circuits applying Rule 54.
In doing so, we recognize that the rule's fourteen-day
filing period is subject to equitable tolling. See Walker
v. Astrue, 593 F.3d at 280. Where, as here, a Social
Security claimant secures a judgment reversing a denial of
benefits and remanding for further proceedings, the
fourteen-day filing period is tolled until the claimant
receives notice of the amount of any benefits award. That is
because the benefits award amount is necessary to identify
the maximum attorney's fee that may be awarded under
§ 406(b) fee application having been filed well beyond
the fourteen days prescribed by Rule 54(d)(2)(B), even when
so tolled, we affirm the judgment denying Sinkler's
attorney's fee application as untimely. No different
conclusion would obtain even on reasonableness review because
Sinkler fails to come forward with a factual basis for
deeming her six-month filing delay reasonable.
August 8, 2014, Sinkler initiated this action for judicial
review of a decision of the Social Security Administration
("SSA") denying her application for supplemental
social security income. On June 2, 2015, the district court
entered a "sentence four" final judgment in her
favor, reversing the denial of benefits and remanding the
case for further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). On remand, an Administrative Law Judge
ruled, in a decision dated November 7, 2016, that Sinkler was
entitled to supplemental social security income.
Approximately six weeks later, on December 28, 2016, the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")
issued a letter advising Sinkler of her entitlement to $67,
404 in past-due benefits. Sinkler's counsel received this
letter on January 3, 2017.
until six months later, however, on July 6, 2017, did Sinkler
apply to the district court for attorney's fees,
requesting the statutory maximum of 25% of the past-due
benefits award, or $16, 851. See id. §
406(b). The district court denied the motion as
untimely, holding that (1) Sinkler's application was
outside the fourteen-day limitations period prescribed by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 54; and, in any event, (2) Sinkler's
delay in seeking fees was unreasonable. See Sinkler v.
Berryhill, 305 F.Supp.3d at 453-59. Upon denial of
reconsideration, see Sinkler v. Berryhill, 317
F.Supp.3d at 687, this timely appeal followed.
we review the denial of an attorney's fee award
deferentially for abuse of discretion, we consider underlying
questions of law de novo. See Fresno Cty. Empls.'
Ret. Ass'n v. Isaacson/Weaver Family Tr, 925 F.3d
63, 67 (2d Cir. 2019). Because this appeal turns on ...