Slepian Smith, PLLC

SCOTUS scolds SSA for dismissing late applications

In May of 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the highest court in the country, questioned the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) right to deny disability benefits for an applicant when the timeliness of the claim was the only reason for dismissal. The merits of the case were not in question.

What happened?

The SSA currently requires a four-step process to review a denial of benefits. Essentially, the process works as follows: first, the initial determination. Second, a request for reconsideration. Third, a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge and finally a request for an appeal with the Appeals Council. The applicant must take each step within an allotted time. The case in question involved an individual who had challenged his denial to receive disability benefits through the first three steps of the process. When he got to the fourth, the Appeals Council rejected review, stating he had not made the request within the required 60-day time limit.

The applicant took the case to SCOTUS. SCOTUS unanimously held that the federal review should continue. The justices used the language of the Social Security Act to support their ruling. The pertinent language states an applicant is permitted judicial review of “any final decision … after a hearing.” As a result, SCOTUS held the applicant’s case could continue and that he had the right to argue for approval of his claim to the Appeals Council.

Why is this significant?

The holding may provide increased flexibility for those in similar situations. Holdings from SCOTUS apply throughout the country. As a result, this holding should apply to all SSA cases dismissed solely based on timeliness.

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