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IL disability lawyerThere are multiple levels to the process of reviewing an application for Social Security disability benefits. An administrative law judge (ALJ) employed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) normally conducts a hearing and issues a decision to grant or deny benefits. If the ALJ denies benefits, the applicant can then file an internal appeal with SSA, and if that fails, file a lawsuit against the agency in federal court.

But even if a federal judge agrees with the applicant that the ALJ's decision was incorrect, the court will typically not award disability benefits directly. Instead, the court will remand–return–the case to Social Security for a new ALJ hearing, effectively restarting the entire process. However, in rare cases, a court may decide this is unnecessary and simply order Social Security to start paying disability benefits.

Seventh Circuit: Applicant's Age, Limited Education, and Prior Work Experience Justify Award of Benefits Without a Third Hearing

We recently saw an example of this from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. The plaintiff in this case, Marin v. Saul, has been unable to work for over a decade due to her physical and mental impairments. In 2012, an ALJ held a hearing and determined that despite the plaintiff's impairments, she could still “work in a sedentary job requiring little social interaction,” and denied her application for benefits. The plaintiff then went through the appeals process, and a federal district court ended up remanding the case back to Social Security for a new hearing.

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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.

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