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Supreme Court: Disability Applicant May Appeal Dismissal of Claim Caused by Allegedly Late Filing

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerThere are typically four stages to the Social Security disability application process. First, the applicant receives an initial determination of their eligibility. If the initial determination finds the applicant is not disabled, they may ask for reconsideration of that decision. If Social Security still rejects the claim, the applicant may request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ rejects the application, the fourth and final step is to ask for a review from the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council.

If even after all four steps, Social Security still denies a disability claim, the applicant can then seek “judicial review,” i.e., file a lawsuit in federal court. The Social Security Act expressly guarantees the right to judicial review of “any final decision … after a hearing.”

When Is a Social Security Decision Final?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently weighed in on what exactly the law means when it says “any final decision” can be appealed to the court. More precisely, if the Appeals Council dismisses a fourth-step appeal due to a procedural issue, is that a “final decision” that can be reviewed by a judge.

This question came before the Court because of a Kentucky man (the petitioner) who first filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits in 2012. The petitioner completed the first three steps of the application process–initial determination, review, and an ALJ hearing–without success. The petitioner's disability attorney then sent a letter to Social Security seeking an Appeals Council review, the fourth and final stage before seeking judicial review.

Under Social Security regulations, a request for an Appeals Council review must be filed within 60 days of receiving the ALJ's decision. Social Security claims the petitioner did not comply with this deadline. The petitioner's attorney maintained he the letter was sent “well within” the 60-day window. In any event, the Appeals Council “dismissed” the petitioner's request for review on grounds he filed late.

The petitioner then sought judicial review in federal court. But the court said it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because under binding precedent from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, “an Appeals Council decision to refrain from considering an untimely review is not a 'final decision' subject to judicial review in federal court.” The Supreme Court then agreed to review the matter, as other federal appeals courts – including the Seventh Circuit here in Chicago – interpret the law differently on this point.

Before the Supreme Court, the federal government actually agreed with the petitioner that the Appeals Council's dismissal was a “final decision” subject to judicial review. So it should come as no surprise the Court unanimously held the petitioner was entitled to seek judicial review, at least with respect to the procedural grounds of the dismissal. Writing for the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said once a disability applicant has “reached the fourth and final step” of the Social Security process, the agency's decision is considered “final” for purposes of judicial review.

Get Help from an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney

The Supreme Court's decision provides an important clarification of the rights of all disability applicants to seek judicial review if and when their claim is denied. If you need assistance in navigating the four-step Social Security process from an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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