Claimants filing for a review of their Social Security Disability case face many obstacles. Although it is true that a larger percent of cases are accepted once they are put through the appeal process, it can take years to finally get a hearing because of the backlog of cases in the system. To add to this, it is well-documented that judges at some SSA hearing offices are more likely to reject disability cases than others, an apparent injustice that continues to result in law suits all across the country.
One SSA office’s reputation has recently been brought to national attention. For many years, the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s office in the borough of Queens, New York, has been known for its high rejection of cases. It is listed among the top ten offices nationwide most likely to reject an appeal to a Social Security Disability benefits denial. The judges there deny, on average, sixty-three percent of the cases they review; the national average is thirty-six percent. Besides resulting in disgruntled disability applicants, the unfavorable reputation of this office has even the best disability lawyers running the other direction. Some lawyers have even gone so far as to strongly urge clients to move to other boroughs so they will be seen by other judges. With statistics and stories like these, it is no wonder the branch is facing a class action law suit that could have repercussions.
Eight people who were denied benefits by the five Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) at the Queens SSA office are filing a class action suit mainly on the basis of discrimination. They claim that their cases, in particular, were denied based on factors such as race, ethnicity, and social status rather than strictly on medical and other proofs presented in their hearings. Many of those who represent the class are lower-class immigrants, a large part of the population in Queens.
Not only were these individuals upset that their cases were denied; they also claim that the questioning methods and manners of the judges were hostile and cruel. Interestingly, these eight plaintiffs are not the only SSDI applicants to complain about the Queens office for the very same reasons. Federal judges have actually overruled some of the ALJ’s decisions after investigating such complaints.
The plaintiffs’ goals are to have their personal case verdicts overturned and to see the five judges at the Queens office removed from their positions, but because their suit is class-action, it could mean the reversal of all previous denials made by the judges. This factor makes the suit extremely important to formerly denied claimants in Queens and their lawyers, as well as other Social Security Disability advocates. The verdict of this case may very well encourage similar suits all across the country, and will hopefully result in more accountability and consistency in administrative law judges.
Regardless of the outcome, it is always a good idea for disability applicants to review the case records of the administrative law judges in their jurisdiction, available on the SSA’s website, as well as with disability attorneys that specialize in disability cases.