SSA issues final rule on hearings held by AAJs of the Appeals Council
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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

SSA issues final rule on hearings held by AAJs of the Appeals Council

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

The SSA has revised its rules to clarify when and how administrative appeals judges (AAJ) on the Appeals Council may hold hearings and issue decisions. The Appeals Council already has the authority to hold hearings and issue decisions under existing regulations, but the agency has not exercised this authority or explained the circumstances under which it would be appropriate for the Appeals Council to assume responsibility for holding a hearing and issuing a decision. This final rule will ensure the Appeals Council is not limited in the type of claims for which it may hold hearings. It becomes effective on December 16, 2020.

Differences between proposed and final rules. The final rule differs from the proposed rule in the following ways: The SSA is not making the proposed changes to Sec. 402.60 because the agency is considering the possibility of reorganizing sections within 20 CFR part 402 and will consider revisions to Sec. 402.60 as part of that reorganization.

The SSA revised Secs. 404.929, 416.1429, 404.976, and 416.1476 to conform to the current CFR text, which the SSA recently revised as part of its final rule, “Setting the Manner for the Appearance of Parties and Witnesses at a Hearing,” published on December 18, 2019.

The SSA removed proposed paragraph (d) from Secs. 404.970 and 416.1470 in response to the public comments it received,. It also removed the corresponding language in proposed paragraph (a) of the same sections.

The SSA revised Secs. 404.973 and 416.1473 in response to the public comments it received, to clarify that prior notice is not needed where the Appeals Council issues a decision that is favorable in part, and remands the remaining issues for further proceedings.

The SSA revised Secs. 404.976(b) and 416.1476(b) to clarify that if the SSA files a certified administrative record in federal court, the agency will include all additional evidence the Appeals Council received during the administrative review process, including additional evidence that the Appeals Council received but did not exhibit or make part of the official record.

The SSA revised Secs. 404.983 and 416.1483 in response to public comments to clarify when the Appeals Council will hold a hearing after court remand. In these sections, the SSA revised paragraph (b) to pertain only to circumstances when the Appeals Council will issue a decision without holding a hearing after a court remand, and the agency inserted a new paragraph (c) to clarify when the Appeals Council will hold a hearing after court remand. As such, the SSA redesignated the prior paragraphs (c) and (d) as paragraphs (d) and (e), respectively.

The SSA revised Secs. 404.984 and 416.1484 to clarify that the Appeals Council may assume jurisdiction of a case after an administrative law judge (ALJ) or administrative appeals judge (AAJ) issues a hearing decision in a case remanded by federal court. It also revised Secss 404.984 and 416.1484 to clarify that the Appeals Council will not dismiss the request for a hearing in a claim where the SSA is otherwise required by law or a judicial order to file the Commissioner's additional and modified findings of fact and decision with a court.

Lastly, the SSA revised Sec. 422.205(a) to clarify that AAJs issue hearing level decisions and dismissals.

The agency received 275 comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 204 of which related to the proposed rule and are available for public viewing at http://www.regulations.gov.

For further information, contact: Debra Sundberg, Office of Appellate Operations, Social Security Administration, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041, (703) 605-7100. See, also, 85 Fed. Reg. 73138, November 16, 2020.

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