Does this mean the Social Security Administration is admitting that some judges are biased or unfair? No, I’m sure they wouldn’t admit that, even though it’s true.
This information about a recent notice from the Social Security Administration comes courtesy of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives:
In October 1992, SSA published a “Notice” about an interim procedure to handle complaints of ALJ bias, prejudice, and unfairness. More than 20 years later, SSA has published a “final” procedure in the form of a Social Security Ruling, SSR 13-1p Agency Processes for Addressing Allegations of Unfairness, Prejudice, Partiality, Bias, Misconduct, or Discrimination by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). 78 Fed. Reg. 6168 (Jan. 29, 2013). Available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-01-29/pdf/2013-01833.pdf. A more detailed article about SSR 13-1p will appear in the January 2013 NOSSCR Forum. The SSR was part of the negotiated agreement in Padro v. Astrue, the class action alleging bias by five ALJs in the Queens, NY ODAR office. An article about the settlement also will appear in the January NOSSCR Forum.
SSR 13-1p provides three different processes for addressing allegations of bias, prejudice, or unfairness.
1. Review by the Appeals Council.
The Appeals Council has the authority to consider allegations under its regular review authority in the regulations. This means that allegations can be raised in the context of a request for review by the claimant. The Appeals Council may also consider objections from a claimant why a new hearing should be held before a different ALJ pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.940 and 416.1440 dealing with recusal of an ALJ due to prejudice or partiality.
2. ODAR Division Quality Service (DQS) process.
The ODAR DQS will address allegations and complaints about ALJ conduct outside the scope of Appeals Council review, from others present at hearings, e.g., witnesses, claimant representatives, and the federal courts. The DQS will track and monitor complaints it receives and, if necessary, conduct investigations. The DQS process is not a substitute for requesting review of an ALJ decision. The claimant must still file the appeal within the regulatory time limits. It is a process that is separate from the request for review process and can be used even in cases where an ALJ issues a favorable decision but has nevertheless engaged in some type of improper conduct.
3. Civil Rights Complaint Process.
A party to a hearing may file a discrimination complaint with SSA if he/she alleges discrimination based on race, color, national origin (including English language ability), religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, or in retaliation for having previously filed a civil rights complaint.
The SSA Office of General Counsel (OGC) has the responsibility to investigate these complaints. This process is additional to a claimant filing a request for review and an individual filing a complaint with the DQS. Filing under one process does not preclude another. NOTE: A claimant who disagrees with an unfavorable ALJ decision on the claim for benefits and wants to appeal must file the request for review with the Appeals Council.
A form for the civil rights complaint is available online at www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-437.pdf [Form SSA-437-BK]. However, use of Form SSA-437-BK is not required. The discrimination complaint must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory action unless SSA finds good cause for late filing.