United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
April 2, 2015, Plaintiff L. Hall petitioned this Court to
review the Social Security Administration’s
(“SSA”) final decision terminating her
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits in
December 2005, because her income exceeded the limits of the
need-based disability program. (ECF No. 1). I have considered
the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment and
Plaintiff’s reply memorandum. (ECF Nos. 25, 30, 35).
After the motions for summary judgment were filed and fully
briefed, Ms. Hall’s counsel, Leslie R. Stellman and
Adam E. Konstas, filed a Motion for Leave to Withdraw as
Counsel, (ECF No. 36), which was granted on July 5, 2016,
(ECF No. 37). Accordingly, I have also considered Ms.
Hall’s Motion for Reconsideration of the Court’s
order granting her attorneys leave to withdraw, her
counsel’s response in opposition, and her reply. (ECF
Nos. 40, 41, 42). I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons
discussed below, I will deny Ms. Hall’s motion for
reconsideration. I will also deny Ms. Hall’s motion for
summary judgment, grant the Commissioner’s motion for
summary judgment, and affirm the Commissioner’s
judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). This letter explains my rationale.
Motion for Reconsideration
Stellman and Mr. Konstas, represented Ms. Hall in her appeal
to this Court of the Agency’s decision that she was no
longer eligible for SSI benefits. (ECF No. 1). In the course
of their representation, Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas filed a
motion for summary judgment on Ms. Hall’s behalf, (ECF
No. 25), and filed a response in opposition to the
Commissioner’s cross-motion for summary judgment, (ECF
23, 2016, Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas notified Ms. Hall via
electronic mail and overnight mail of their intention to
withdraw as her counsel in the present matter. (ECF No. 36-2).
The letter further advised that if Ms. Hall did not respond
by close of business on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, Mr. Stellman
and Mr. Konstas would withdraw their appearance as counsel.
Id. Ms. Hall did not respond, and Mr. Stellman and
Mr. Konstas filed a motion for leave to withdraw as counsel
on July 1, 2016. (ECF No. 36). In so doing, Mr. Stellman and
Mr. Konstas fully complied with the procedural requirements
of the local rules. See Loc. R. 101(2)(a) (requiring
withdrawing counsel to file a certificate stating the name
and last known address of the client and that a written
notice has been served on the client at least seven days
prior to the withdrawal); (ECF No. 36-2). This Court granted
Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas’s motion for leave to
withdraw as counsel on July 5, 2016. (ECF No. 37). Ms. Hall
filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision on July
14, 2016, (ECF No. 40). Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas filed
their opposition on July 20, 2016, (ECF No. 41), and Ms. Hall
filed her reply on August 8, 2016, (ECF No. 42).
Hall argues that Mr. Stellman misrepresented his reasons for
seeking to withdraw as counsel, and Mr. Konstas’s
availability to remain as counsel of record. Specifically,
Ms. Hall contends that Mr. Stellman told her that he was
withdrawing as counsel for reasons related to his health and
well-being. (ECF No. 40 at 2); see also (ECF No. 42
at 14) (“I cannot risk this to my life and my health on
a daily basis, so I will have to transition all pending
matters out of this office.”). Ms. Hall contends that
she did not understand these reasons to affect whether Mr.
Konstas would remain as counsel of record, (ECF No. 40 at
1-2), nor was she notified of the “[d]ifferences”
which Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas alleged made it
“impossible . . . to continue representing Plaintiff in
these proceedings.” (ECF No. 36 at 1). Furthermore, Ms.
Hall asserts that Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas’s
decision to withdraw from representation may have been
economically driven. See (ECF No. 42 at 2)
(“In essence, some months into the Firm’s
representation a conflict was discovered within the Firm such
that the MedStar case was jettisoned and with it the prospect
of a flow of funds such that the SSA/SSI matter as a
standalone case could no longer be justified on economic
Hall also cites Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16(d),
which provides that:
Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps
to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a
client’s interests, such as giving reasonable notice to
the client, allowing time for employment of other counsel,
surrendering papers and property to which the client is
entitled and refunding any advance payment of fee or expense
that has not been earned or incurred.
these lines, Ms. Hall asserts that, “Attorney Stellman
should and could have known that especially on a holiday
weekend there was virtually no possibility that replacement
counsel could be identified and engaged.” (ECF No. 40
at 2). She further asserts that Mr. Stellman failed to follow
the proper procedures for sending case records to her current
address, and as a result, that “four binders” of
case records are missing. Id. Finally, she alleges
that Mr. Stellman has not made an accounting of any escrow
funds or returned any unused funds to her. Id.
Ultimately, Ms. Hall argues that allowing Mr. Stellman and
Mr. Konstas to withdraw as counsel is detrimental because it
deprives her of counsel “Possessing Unique and
Irreplaceable Knowledge of the Highly Relevant Predecessor
Case, ” and because it could lead to the “Loss of
Access to Health Care Benefits with Potentially Lethal
Consequences.” (ECF No. 42 at 6-8).
decision to grant or deny an attorney’s motion to
withdraw is committed to the discretion of the district
court.” Abbot v. Gordon, No. DKC-09-0372, 2010
WL 4183334, at *1 (D. Md. Oct. 25, 2010) (citing Whiting
v. Lacara, 187 F.3d 317, 320 (2d Cir. 1999)); see
also Fleming v. Harris, 39 F.3d 905, 908 (8th Cir.
1994); Washington v. Sherwin Real Estate, Inc., 694
F.2d 1081, 1087 (7th Cir. 1982). Local Rules 703 and 704
provide that lawyers practicing in this Court are subject to
the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct
(“MRPC”). MRPC 1.16, which is substantially the
same as ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16 cited by
Ms. Hall, provides a benchmark for when withdrawal is
permitted. MRPC 1.16 (a) addresses mandatory withdrawal, and
subsection (b) addresses permissive withdrawal. Subsection
(b) states, in relevant part:
Except as stated in paragraph (c) a lawyer may withdraw from
representing a client if:
(1) withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse
effect on the interests of the client; . . .
(7) other good cause for withdrawal exists.
MRPC 1.16(b). Subsection (c) provides that, “[a] lawyer
must comply with applicable law requiring notice to or
permission of a tribunal when terminating representation.
When ordered to do so by a tribunal, a lawyer shall continue
representation notwithstanding good cause for terminating the
representation.” MRPC 1.16(c).
there is little case law defining what constitutes
“material adverse effect, ” this Court has held
that there is no material adverse effect or prejudice
“where there [are] ‘no impending deadlines’
and it [i]s ‘clear that the attorney-client
relationship has broken down.’” Respess v.
Travelers Cas. & Sur. Co., No. ELH-10-2937, 2011 WL
1344137, at *4 (D. Md. Apr. 7, 2011) (quoting
Abbott, 2010 WL 4183334, at *3). Likewise, the Court
has declined to extend an attorney-client relationship merely
on the grounds that a plaintiff “may later attempt to
file another suit.” Id.
instant case, both parties’ motions for summary
judgment are fully briefed. Thus, as in Abbott,
there are no impending deadlines. Accordingly, Ms. Hall would
only need the continued assistance of an attorney if she
disagrees with this decision, and wishes to file an appeal to
the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
However, I decline to extend the attorney-client relationship
on those grounds. In so holding, I note that I have fully
considered Ms. Hall’s status as a person with a
disability, but nevertheless find that she is not prejudiced
by the withdrawal of her attorneys in the present matter
since there is no further work to be performed in this
Court. In addition, I note that MRPC 1.16(d)
outlines the obligations of an attorney “[u]pon
termination, ” and does not govern whether an attorney
should be granted leave to withdraw in the first instance.
While I agree that Mr. Stellman and Mr. Konstas should do
everything possible to comply with their obligations under
MRPC 1.16(d), I find that those obligations have no impact on
whether their withdrawal would prejudice Ms. Hall in this
Motions for Summary Judgment
case has a lengthy procedural history. In December 2001, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Ms.
Hall had been disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act since July 2000, and awarded her SSI benefits.
(Tr. 1061, 1348-51). In March 2003, SSA notified Ms. Hall
that it was reviewing her continuing eligibility for SSI
benefits. (Tr. 1463, 1465). Based on the findings from a
redetermination interview, the Agency recommended terminating
Ms. Hall’s benefits as of June 2003, finding that her
income exceeded the statutory limits of the SSI program
beginning in April 2003. (Tr. 1061). Ms. Hall requested
reconsideration of the Agency’s decision to terminate
her benefits, and elected to continue receiving benefits
until that request was adjudicated. (Tr. 478); see
20 C.F.R. §§ 416.996(f), 416.1336(b). In November
2005, SSA ruled on Ms. Hall’s request for
reconsideration, upholding its earlier determination that her
SSI benefits should be terminated. (Tr. 461). Accordingly,
Ms. Hall’s SSI benefits were terminated in December
2005. (Tr. 1061). Ms. Hall then requested a hearing
challenging the termination of her benefits. A hearing was
held in August 2006, and a second, supplemental hearing was
held in May 2007. (Tr. 910-30, 931-69). In January 2008, the
ALJ issued a decision upholding the termination of Ms.
Hall’s SSI benefits, and finding that her income
exceeded the requirements for receiving SSI benefits. (Tr.
14-19). Specifically, the ALJ held that funds Ms. Hall had
received from four ...