SSA issues SSR 19-1p regarding the effect of Lucia v. SEC on cases before the Appeals Council
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

SSA issues SSR 19-1p regarding the effect of Lucia v. SEC on cases before the Appeals Council

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

The SSA is giving notice of SSR 19-1p. This ruling explains how the agency will adjudicate cases pending at the Appeals Council in which the claimant has raised a timely challenge to the appointment of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) under the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution in light of the Supreme Court's recent 2018 decision in Lucia v. SEC. The SSA will apply the notice effective on March 15, 2019.

Background. In Lucia, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the manner in which the SEC appointed its ALJs. The Supreme Court held that the SEC's ALJs are “Officers of the United States” within the meaning of the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution. As a result, the SEC's ALJs should have been (but were not) appointed to their positions by either the President, a court of law, or the Department head. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision finding that the SEC's ALJs were not inferior officers. Having determined that the plaintiff had raised a timely challenge to the ALJ's appointment, the Supreme Court remanded the case for a new hearing before a properly appointed ALJ who had not previously heard the case, or before the SEC itself.

The Supreme Court's decision in Lucia did not specifically address the constitutional status of ALJs who work in other federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration. To address any Appointments Clause questions involving Social Security claims, and consistent with guidance from the Department of Justice, on July 16, 2018, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ratified the appointments of the SSA’s ALJs and approved those appointments as her own. On the same day, the Acting Commissioner took the same actions with respect to the administrative appeals judges (AAJs) who work at the Appeals Council. The agency is now issuing this SSR to explain how the Appeals Council will adjudicate appeals in which the claimant timely raises an Appointments Clause challenge to the authority of the ALJ who decided or dismissed a claim.

Challenges after Lucia decision. The SSA interprets some challenges to the ALJ's authority to hear and decide a claim, based on the Supreme Court's decision in Lucia, as raising “a broad policy or procedural issue that may affect the general public interest” within the meaning of its regulations. Challenges to an ALJ's authority to decide a claim may raise a broadly applicable procedural issue independent of the merits of the individual claim for benefits—that is, whether the ALJ who presided over the claimant's hearing was properly appointed under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. The SSA will process requests for review that include a timely administrative challenge to the ALJ's authority based on the Appointments Clause in the manner described below.

Review process. The Appeals Council will grant the claimant's request for review in cases where he or she: (1) Timely requests Appeals Council review of an ALJ's decision or dismissal issued before July 16, 2018; and (2) raises before the agency (either at the Appeals Council level, or previously raised at the ALJ level) a challenge under the Appointments Clause to the authority of the ALJ who issued the decision or dismissal in the case.

When the Appeals Council grants review based on a timely raised Appointments Clause challenge, AAJs who have been appointed by the Acting Commissioner (or whose appointments the Acting Commissioner has ratified) will vacate the hearing decision or dismissal. In cases in which the ALJ made a decision, the Appeals Council will conduct a new and independent review of the claims file and either remand the case to an ALJ other than the ALJ who issued the decision under review, or issue its own new decision about the claim covering the period before the date of the ALJ's decision. In its review, the Appeals Council will not presume that the prior hearing decision was correct.

In cases in which the ALJ dismissed a request for a hearing, the Appeals Council will vacate the ALJ's dismissal order and will then either: (1) Decide whether the request for a hearing should be dismissed, or (2) remand the case to another ALJ to determine that issue.

When the Appeals Council grants a claimant's request for review in cases that raise a timely Appointments Clause challenge, the claimant may request a reasonable opportunity to file briefs or other written statements about the facts and law relevant to the case. The regulations also allow a claimant to request to appear before the Appeals Council to present oral argument. If the Appeals Council decides that the case raises an important question of law or policy, or that oral argument would help reach the proper result, the Appeals Council will grant the request to appear. If the Appeals Council grants a request to appear and holds oral argument, it will notify the claimant and his or her representative about the time and place at least 10 days before the date scheduled for the appearance. The Appeals Council also will determine whether the appearance, or the appearance of any other person relevant to the proceeding, will be in person, by video teleconferencing, or by telephone.

The Appeals Council will either remand the case to a different ALJ; issue a new, independent decision; or, as appropriate, issue an order dismissing the request for a hearing. When the Appeals Council issues a decision, that decision may result in different findings from the ALJ hearing decision that the Appeals Council vacated. When the Appeals Council grants review and issues its own decision, that decision will be based on the preponderance of the evidence.

For further information. For further information, contact Nancy Chung, Office of Appellate Operations, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Virginia, (703) 605-7100. See 84 Fed. Reg. 9582, March 15, 2019.

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