My goodness, wouldn’t this change things in the world of Social Security benefit claims?! A class action has been filed in New York claiming that biased Administrative Law Judges caused many disability claimants to be denied benefits. Now, according to a Reuters article, a proposed settlement would allow thousands of claimants to have new hearings. There is always the possibility of this occurring in other parts of the country, including Texas.
Here are excerpts from the article:
The complaint was brought against the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael Astrue, by eight disabled individuals whose disability benefit claims were rejected by one of five ALJs — David Nisnewitz, Marilyn Hoppenfeld, Seymour Fier, Michael Cofresi and Hazel Strauss. They work in the Queens Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, which is part of the Social Security Administration.
The complaint said that the ALJs created a “brick wall of bias” and accused them of systematically ignoring medical evidence, failing to adhere to legal standards and depriving claimants of fair hearings.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs, Jim Walden of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, said the settlement “provides meaningful relief, reform and monitoring to rectify years of disgraceful conduct by these ALJs in Queens.”
“Thousands of the most vulnerable New Yorkers will be the better for it,” Walden said. “We are grateful that the Social Security Administration decided to embrace relief and reform rather than digging in its heels.”
The Queens office has one of the highest denial rates in the country, nearly 49 percent between 2005 and 2009, compared with 19 percent in neighboring Brooklyn, plaintiffs said, citing data from the Social Security Administration.
The plaintiffs sought class status on behalf of all individuals whose claims were fully or partially rejected by one of the ALJs. The original complaint sought either an order barring the named ALJs from presiding over future disability benefit hearings or, in the alternative, new hearings for all affected claimants before different ALJs and a system for keeping tabs on the ALJs to ensure they provided fair hearings in the future.
While the proposed settlement would allow the ALJs to keep their jobs, an estimated 4,000 individuals whose benefit claims were fully or partially rejected by one of the five named ALJs since 2008 would be entitled to new hearings before different ALJs in Queens, according to settlement papers.
The case is Padro v. Astrue, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, no. 11-1788.