Social Security Judge Dispute Reaches Supreme Court

Social Security Judge Dispute Reaches Supreme Court

Administrative Law Judges conduct hearings and play a crucial and central role in disability claims.  However, the way that thousands of ALJs got their job was unconstitutional.  So said the Supreme Court in 2018.

Now the Supreme Court has taken up the issue again. This time the court will decide if 11th hour challenges to the ALJs’ authority will get claimants new hearings - or if they’re stuck with decisions from unconstitutionally appointed administrative judges.

Lucia Challenges

In 2018 the Supreme Court decided Lucia v. SEC.  Lucia wasn’t a Social Security case, but involved administrative judges very similar to those used by Social Security.

According to Lucia ALJs are “officers of the United States” and therefore had to be appointed by a president. Because the ALJs had all been hired through a merit system, but not formally appointed they were without power to decide cases.

This meant that hundreds or thousands of pending social security appeals were due to get new hearings. But…

Carr v. Saul

But under Lucia you only get a new hearing if you made a “timely” request for a new hearing. But questions remained over what would constitute timely and how late was too late.  This was especially important because most of the cases in which this was an issue had already be decided or were well into their appeal.

In the Supreme Court’s new case, Carr v. Saul, they will decide when that challenge has to happen. Some federal courts issued opinions that required the Lucia challenge to happen no later than at the Appeals Council level of appeal.  Other courts- two of the circuit courts at this point - allowed a Lucia challenge at the district court level of appeal.

When will the court rule?

The case was just accepted by the Supreme Court on November 9, 2020. Assuming there are not delays the case could be heard and decided in the Spring term. If so, a decision should be expected by June 2021.

What this means…

This case affects those who had hearings before July 16, 2018. If you had a hearing before then, it is mostly likely been resolved by now. However, for those with pending appeals, this could be an issue.

For example, Disability Alabama represents just such a claimant.  Their first lawyer didn’t raise the the issue, and when they came to us Appeals Council had already denied their claim without a Lucia challenge. So when we took up and appealed their case to the District Court we asked for a new hearing based on Lucia.

If you have a pre-July 2018 case that hasn’t been decided yet because of appeals or other delays, talk to your lawyer about a Lucia challenge and the possibility of a new hearing. If the Supreme Court allows the issue to be raised at the district court level, you might still have grounds for a new hearing.

Where to learn more:

  1. Keep an eye on the case with SCOTUS blog using their dedicated case page for updates and analysis;
  2. Read Lucia v. SEC;
  3. Use Disability Alabama’s disability calculator for an estimate of your benefit. While you do not need any special information to complete the calculation you may want to take a moment to think about your average yearly income and current household income before using the disability calculator; and
  4. If you have questions about your Social Security appeal give Disability Alabama a call or send us a message.