Monday, June 30, 2014

Appealing a Social Security Disability Case to Federal Court

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the process of appealing a case that had been denied by an administrative law judge to the Appeals Council.  This week I will describe the process of appealing the case, one step further, to Federal District Court.  
If a case is denied by the Appeals Council, you have the right to ask that the Federal Court review your case.  You have 60 days from the date of the Appeals Council decision to file your complaint in Federal Court.  Following Court rules can be quite complicated and, for this reason, it is advisable that you  hire a competent Social Security Disability Lawyer to represent you.  A disability lawyer will not charge you any up front legal fees and will only get paid only if he or she is able to win benefits for you.  A Social Security Lawyer will get paid out of your past due benefits and/or through fees awarded under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).  EAJA is a Federal Law that allows lawyers to petition the Court to order the Federal Government to pay attorney's fees.
An action in Federal Court is commenced by the filing of a complaint.  A complaint is a brief statement of the case that sets forth the basis for your case.  If you do not have enough funds to pay court fees, you or your lawyer can ask the judge to waive these costs in your case by filing a "Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis", which is a Latin legal term that literally means "in the form of a pauper", referring to poor plaintiff who is allowed to file a case for free.
Under Federal Law the case must be filed against the person who happens to be the Commissioner of Social Security.  You cannot sue the Social Security Administration or the U.S. Government.  You must also serve the Commissioner at the designated Office of the Regional Counsel for the state where you live.  In Connecticut and Massachusetts this office is the Region I office in Boston. 
Once your case is submitted before the Federal Court, your lawyer will file a brief explaining your position to the Court.  No new evidence may me added to your case beyond the evidence presented before the Administrative law Judge.  When the judge decides your case he or she may do any of the following: affirm the ALJ's decision, remand the case back to the ALJ for further proceedings or reverse the ALJ's decision and award your benefits.