August 2, 2014

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Social Security Judges for Bias

unfair judgeOne of the “dirty little secrets” well known to Social Security lawyers relates to the importance of which judge is assigned to hear your case.   The tendencies of the judge assigned to your case is perhaps the most important factor as to whether you will win or lose.

I have no doubt that I could present the same client and the same arguments to two different judges in the same hearing office and win an approval on one case but a denial in the other.   Social Security actually publishes statistics setting out the number of approvals and denials by judge – some judges approve as few as 30% of the cases they hear, while others approve 65% to 70%.

While some variation in approval rates would be expected, I think that a system where your odds go from 30% to 70% depending on the judge suggests a significant problem.  In my view, judges whose approval or denial rate exceeds the national or regional average by a certain percentage should be reviewed by their superiors.

This problem is compounded by the standards used by the Appeals Council (the level of appeal following a hearing denial).  Generally the Appeals Council will not reverse a judge’s decision if that decision arose from the judge’s procedurally correct evaluation of the evidence.  In other words, if the judge used the proper standard of law, the Appeals Council will not disturb that judge’s conclusions.

Often judges deny cases because they did not find a claimant to be “credible” or believeable.  Credibility is a very subjective concept.  How can an appeals judge decide that the trial judge made an improper conclusion about whether you were believeable.

Earlier this year, however, several lawyers and their clients filed a class action lawsuit against several Social Security Administrative Law Judges alleging systemic bias by those judges.   The case, which was filed in Queens, New York, alleges that five judges intentionally and consistently maintained a hostile hearing environment designed to deny claims wrongfully.  The suit seeks to bar these judges from hearing cases and to give claimants denied by these judges another chance to present their claims to different judges.

The Queens lawsuit is just beginning, but it will be interesting to see if the plaintiffs are successful, and if news of this lawsuit prompts changes in the attitudes of judges throughout the country who deny a higher than average number of cases.

 

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Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 23 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.

Comments

  1. Donna Smith says:

    I lost my SSDI/SSI in 2005-2006 because I had no reader for my mail and SSA refused to enlarge the print making everything late.I missed a revaluation appointment in Nov when I did not find out til after Dec 25.I have never been able to get my benefits back even though I filed an appeal.Paul Ryan an attorney told me ” The judge’s feet are set in stone, he will not give you a continuance no matter what the cause”. I had a respiratory infection for 3 months and took several courses of antibiotics before it went away. I am in a wheelchair since 2003 and SSA says they have no knowledge of it even though I was at the field office in my chair many times.I have no eyeglasses, those are no longer on the medicaid formulary. Medicaid did pay for glasses at one time and that was how I got mine until they were stolen. I lost my sight to untreated thyroid disease. I lost my hearing rights because I cannot read smaller than size 14 font. I cannot reapply because the conditions that led to Council of the Blind vs Astrue (SSA Admin) have not been corrected and my vision is getting worse. Medicaid paid for my wheelchair,medicines,etc so I do not believe SSA has no evidence of disability. I have only food stamps and medicaid now and it is a fight to keep those.Stanley Hogg was the ALJ for my SS and now I have another AlJ for my welfare and he is mean as a rabid dog. The county has stopped my benefits every month for 3 months I have filed appeals and got them mad enough to kill me. What am I supposed to do? Attorneys will not help me because I cannot read their papers either.

  2. Demetrius says:

    I had my hearing on 06/28/11 in the West L.A. court. The Judge was extremely rude and questioned my credibility because I had filed for unemployment in 03/08 and recieved it until 08/08. I applied for SSD in 10/09, which is a year and a half later. I had medical records dating back to 2001 from a back injury. Current medical records proved I was depressed, back injury, and suffering from gout. Reports from 5 doctors supporting claim. Judge never addressed any of the medical evidence, acussed me of lying to either the State for unemployment benefits saying I was able to work or the Federal government stating I was too disabled to work. He dismissed my case on this basis. This was one of the most humiliating experiences I have ever had, he did everything he could to strip me of my dignity. I left his office completely devastated after waiting 2 years to be insulted by him. He has a tough reputation in the West L.A. CA office.

  3. Elizabeth Faraone says:

    I’m 49 years old. I have a genetic form of emphysema, which has led to partial lung collapses and long term chronic pain and I have Hepatitis C, probably since the mid 1990s,through no fault of my own. I always took very good care of my health, with a healthy, whole foods diet all of my life, except when I became homeless when I was unable to work.

    The first time I applied for disability in 2001, I was denied and went in front of a judge. My sister found a lawyer for me that was recommended by the SSA and the lawyer was hostile towards me and when he saw the art that I produced years earlier (he happened to be passing by in the hallway when I was showing photographs of my work to my sister) he made a snide comment, saying that if he could draw/paint like I could, he would not be applying for disability. When we met in his office, he told me that I was going in front of a judge who usually denied claims and that I should not tell him that I had been living on the beach in Mexico prior to the hearing.

    The judge was hostile towards me, questioning me about drug usage (I have NEVER used drugs or alcohol) and his response to me was that only one of my lungs had collapsed and I still had the other one – this was not reported in the court transcript.

    I have applied many times and been denied. I would like to participate in a class action lawsuit. I am more concerned about the injustice against so many, rather than my own victimization. I’m good at being detached, although my life has been very hard. I was a very hard and devoted worker and did not want to give up my standard of living that was good, even though I never made much money but was very good at managing it. I worked for many years with a lot of physical pain until I could no longer work and then I applied for disability, knowing that I would be denied.

    Check out my little video. It expresses how I feel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRPy2sBuQeY

  4. DEBBIE HILL says:

    Hi!! I HAVE BEEN JUMPING THROUGH DISABILITY INSURANSE SINCE 2007.
    #1 I FILED APPLICATION FOR BOTH SSI AND SSDI IN 2007
    (THEY BOTH WERE DENIED)
    #2 FILED AN APPEAL AND HIRED ATTORNEY
    #3 ALJ JUDGE HEARING (JUNE 2009)
    #4 HEARING UNFAVORABLE( MY ATTORNEY WASN’T ON TOP MY CASE) AS, FOR THERE WAS
    SUPPOSED TO BE AN IMMEDIATE HEARING GIVEN FOR SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES. WHICH
    MY ATTORNEY DID FILE AN APPEAL. BUT, WASN’T GIVEN THE HEARING AS S.S. RULES
    STATE. BETWEEN THE JUDGE & ATTORNEY. BOTH WERE NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES
    SET FORTH.(HALEX)
    #5 CASE SENT TO THE ADJUDICATION APPEALS COUNCIL. AND AFTER ALMOST A YEAR
    OF NO RETURN COMMUNICATION ETC..WITH ATTORNEY. I FIRED HIM. AND, I FILED FOR
    I FILED A REQUEST FOR RECONSIDERATION DUE TO WRONGFULL REPRESENTATION
    AND JUDGES UNFAVROABLE DECISION WITHOUT PROPER PROCESS.
    #6 I WAS SENDING THE ADJUDICATION COUNCIL ON A ALMOST MONTHLY BASIS ANY AND
    INFORMATION ABOUT MY MEDICAL/PHYSICAL CONDITIONS. AND THE STATUES THAT
    WERE BROKEN ETC..
    #7 ADJUDICATION COUNCIL REPREMANDED ALJ JUDGE AND REQUESTED A REVIEW.
    AND HEARING WAS SET.
    #8 HEARING WITH ALJ JUDGE AUGUEST 25TH, 2011. WHICH ACCORDING TO THE REVIEW
    THE JUDGE WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE A RULING THAT THEY FELT WOULD BE A
    FAVORABLE ONE. AS, FOR THERE WAS MORE THAN SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE AT FIRST
    HEARING ATTENDED.
    #9 ALJ AGAIN. EVEN THOUGH I HAD SINCE THE LAST HEARING EVEN MORE MEDICAL
    EVIDENCE FROM SPECIALIST THAT WOULD OUT WEIGH ANY AND ALL DOUBT OF
    IN MY CASE. SHE STILL INSISTED THAT SHE FELT IN HER OPION THAT I COULD DO
    LIGHT WORK. AND, WOULD HAVE TO AGAIN RESEARCH AVALIABLE JOBS. AND, REVEIW
    MY MEDICAL RECORDS. WHICH SHE SHOULD HAVE ALREADY HAVE DONE BEFORE
    THIS HEARING. AND WAS TOLD TO DO BY ADJUDICATION COUNCIL WHEN CASE
    RETURNED FOR IMMEDIATE REVIEW AND HEARING TO BE SET A.S.A.P. SO, I AM
    AGAIN WAITING FOR A DECISION. WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE AT HEARING.
    #10 I FEEL AS IF I AM BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST. AND THE JUDGE IS BEING BIAS.

    #11 ALTHOUGH WHEN ASKED HOW LONG BEFORE A DECISION WOULD BE MADE. JUDGE
    OFF RECORD STATED IT COULD BE 4 MONTHS TO 8 MONTHS OR AS LONG AS SHE
    NEEDED TO TAKE… NOT ACCORDING TO THE DECISION THAT THE ADJUDICATION
    APPEALS COUNCIL WHEN SENT REVEIEW OF DECISION OF ALJ JUDGE.
    #12 MY NEXT STEP IS TO FILE AN APPEAL WITH THE FEDERAL COURTS ON EVERYTHING
    THAT HAS TRANSPIRED OVER THE PROCESS OF MY ORGINAL APPLICATION.
    ALSO, DATING BACK TO THE FARTHEST DATE BACK WHEN MY CONDITION(S) WERE
    FIRST BEING TROUBLSOME. NOT JUST WHEN I FIRST FILED APPLICATION.

    CONSIDERING ALL OF THE ABOVE? I FEEL I’M MORE THAN JUSTIFIED TO BE
    COMPENSATED FOR ALL MY YEARS OF WORKING…
    AND THEN LOSING EVERYTHING I WORKED SO HARD FOR BECAUSE OF MY DISABILITY
    AND NOT BEING ABLE TO WORK. AND NOT HAVING ANY TYPE OF INCOME FOR ALMOST
    FOUR YEARS OF JUMPING THROUGH ONE HOOP AFTER ANOTHER.

    SINCE MY LAST HEARING. AND MY MEDICAL EVIDENCE SUBMITED. I HAVE SINCE BEEN
    SEEING TWO FIBROMYALGIA SPECIALISTS. AND HAVE TWO MORE DIAGNOISES FROM
    THESE SPECIALISTS.

    I WOULD BE MOST APRECIATIVE OF ANY/ALL ADVICE OR COMMENTS ON MY DISABILITY
    INSURANCE CASE.

    THANK YOU

  5. Working 28 years in pain due from a herniated disk and with many doctors’ visits plus many x-rays along the way in 2003 finally got an MRI and a diagnosis to confirm my long standing issue plus another MRI in 2010. I filed disability about 1 ½ years ago and waited for my disability hearing that finally came in Sept 2011. Many attorneys stated to me that I got the worst possible judge. After the hearing I thought everything went well until the decision came back un-favorable. I have overwhelming evidence of my condition and feel that because the judge was is black male and I was a white male that this may have been a case of reverse discrimination? as this Dallas,Austin Texas judge is affiliated with a large “minority” law firm. We are now in process of the final appeals process and another year or more to wait! It seems to me that everything in this country is corrupt now days!

  6. Renee Bouvier says:

    #1: Take your time in finding a lawyer, which is “not controlled.” #2: You better have hardcopy documents supporting a long history of disability. #3: If judge is hostile, engage in civil disobedience; don’t take it lying down. Spending a few nights in jail is good, because then there will be a very definitive documentation of your disability. If the judge sends you to jail with a severe disability, you will end up in the hospital within several or less hours of incarceration. Don’t let a judge intimidate you; you have rights. If the judge sends you to jail for civil disobedience and contempt of court, then boy will they have documented evidence of disability! Fight back! The more repression, the more you have a legitimate cause to seek asylum abroad. This is war!

  7. Renee Bouvier says:

    If you have been severely infirm since early childhood, but chose not to become a ward of the state due to severe forms of discrimination and persecution here in the U.S. to deliberately preclude you from a relatively normative existence in both economic and social terms — and then, you go through the castastrophic phase of your illness in your thirties due to the hormonal connection — make sure your mother and/or father do not approach the SSA on your behalf to acquire the “Compassionate Allowance” benefits, especially if you have full, comprehensive healthcare insurance coverage (the same coverage for the past fifteen or so years). Wait until your disease and the iatrogenic conditions stabilize, and then, you approach the SSA. Once your mother or father goes to the SSA, while you are lying in a university hospital bed going thru the catastrophic phase of your illness (you know girls to which I am referring; Flannery O’Conor, here we come to join you), you will literally lose all of your civil liberties, your constitutional rights, and your basic human rights — not to mention losing your private healthcare insurance on which your very existence has depended for the past twenty-five to thirty years. With the “Compassionate Allowance,” your mother and/or father will literally sign your life away. You’re as good as dead here in the U.S. Under the “Compassionate Allowance” benefit, you are assigned to Medicaid and SSI. The SSA will maintain that you did not become infirm until the age of 31 or older, deliberately zeroing in on the iatrogenic conditions rather than the childhood infirmity, including any and all autosomal conditions. If your parents did, in fact, obtain the “Compassionate Allowance” benefit for you, prepare to pack your bags to seek asylum abroad. You no longer possess any rights here in the U.S. In fact, you now have grounds to seek asylum abroad. Get the hell out of here before it’s too late. If you are a sister, you probably have at least an undergraduate degree in spite of your severe infirmity and severe debilitation. Americans don’t care whether it took you thirteen to fourteen years to complete your undergraduate work, while lying in bed or sitting on the toilet. Americans are depraved, malevolent, barbaric, sadistic bastards. Leave, while you can! France is nice. The Israelis tend to be very prejudiced against the infirm and the disabled, but they’re not depraved and evil like the Americans. The Germans and Austrians are good. I haven’t tried the Russians yet, but anything is better than the Americans. Australia is good. New Zealand is also very good. The French are extremely accommodating, plus university tuition is free. No matter how sick you are, the French will bend backwards and forwards to make sure you complete your academic program in spite of your very severe infirmity and debilitation. The French are definitely not like the Americans. The only regret I possess is returning to the U.S. Now, I must find a way to get the hell out of here.

  8. @Rod: I agree with you 100%. You trust in the Justice System and it repeatedly proves that Justice is just for a selected few. I now better understand why people don’t respect many of the so Public Officials and the so called Justice System. When will the madness STOP!!!

  9. rebecca conlon says:

    I fought six years… three years past alj interference. Circuit court reversed decision to July 2008. This delay in benefits is great loss as i was 27 now 34 waiting for effective rehab for physical dusability. I will email order ypin requeat to join suit.

  10. rebecca conlon says:

    I feel discrimination is the issue and my loss is time and denying me the benefitsrehabilitation. I fear I may have lost years for starting a family. I am the one who was put off by agency for no reason other than prayer I would give up. Thanks….i wishgiving up was option….it was not and still isnt. I guess i am worth it to who i learned being myself.shame. on all who gave up on me..family who deserted me.alj said i was enjoying pills and attention.. nice.

  11. i was turned down in september of 2o12. they said that i had lied about my problems that i had. i have the letter showing that i was accused of being a alcholic when i dont even drink.they said that the alchol caused my chronic pain and that i was arrested for a dui.now i think i would of known that i was arrested for a dui! not only that i have a stack of papers showing that i have a dislocated disc in my neck and i have lumbar ridicular sydrome plus both knees are going to have to be replace and my hip i also have arthritis through out my body. there are very few days i can get up and have no pain. but lately i have had migraine headaches from the disc in my neck.they also said that the radiaoligist in florida stated that i was a little obese when i only weighed 135 to 145 pounds. what right does he have to say this?about three years ago i ended up in the hospital with about 2 days left before i could of died. my muscles were breaking up and the protien in my blood levels were so high it could of killed me.my attorney said that i had enough credits to draw my disiablity. i have been fighting this for almost 12 to 13 years now. but when they lie with all evidence sitting in front of them and say something else is causing it. what do you do!  thank you for listening

  12. Dean PIercy says:

    There are 36,000 people that are suffering from social security disability over payment, and I am one, they have stopped all of my ssi payments and said, in writing that if I did not agree to $595.00 per month payments this would result in a direct confrontation !? is there any help for me, a class action law suit
    and from my filing date to the day that I was before the Judge 18 Months.!?
    Sincerely,Dean Piercy jetjock21@gmail.com

  13. May God Bless all of you folk venting!

    Yes!!!!!!! I too have been going through this VERY VERY VERY HELLISH SITUATION, AND DISEASE IS PROGRESSING TO LATE STAGE!!!! PAIN IS A PART OF ME, AND i WILL PROBABLY BE DEAD!!!
    HOPE THAT THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WILL ALLOW ME TO GO AND BE NEAR MY DAUGHTER AND GRANDSON…ITS BEEN GOING ON FOR SO LONG I WILL BE GETTING RETIREMENT AND MEDICARE.
    I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THIS IS RACIALLY MOTIVATED SIR, OR ANYONE ELSE, SOCIAL SECURITY IS THE NAZIIS OF THE GOVERNMENT, I WORKED WITH IRS, THEY ARE NOT THIS CRUELLLLLLL, AND THE MINDSET FOR THE PEOPLE OF THIS HATEFUL HATEFUL AGENCY IS SYSTEMIC, AND BY THE WAY THEY NOW HIRE/POLITICALLY CORRECT FOLK WHO HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOVERNMENT PERIOD. TO ALL YOU FOLK IN GEORGIA, BELIEVE IT OR NOT I MISS GRADY HOSPITAL, CALIORNIA LOOKS AT THE BLOOD CANCERS UNLESS YOUR A CELEBRITY AS A DEAD DOG AND DON’T EVEN WANT TO SEE YOU, (THEY WILL GIVE YOU PT CHEMO), AND YOU DON’T HAVE A BIG TIME HEALTH INSURANCE WITH A HIGH DEDUCTIBLE…I AGREE WITH EVERYONE HERE AND I PRAY THAT THE LORD CHRIST WILL DELIVER YOU ALL, ITS TOOOOOOO LATE FOR ME!!!! SEE YOU IN HEAVEN !!!!
    OH! BY THE WAY ITS A BIG GAME FOR ANYONE IN CALI WHO JUST GOT RELEASED, WE HAVE A FAST TRACK PROGRAM FOR SSI, BECAUSE MANY OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE NEVER WORKED, BEEN IN PRISION ALL THEIR LIFE, NOT BEATING UP ON THEM, WE HAVE 33 PRISONS HERE!!! FOLKS FROM ASIA, MIDDLE EAST, INDO-ASIAN AND ECETERA WHO RECIEVE BENEFITS FOR THEIR NEWLY ARRIVED PARENTS, NOT CHILDREN PARENTS, AND IN THIS STATE YOU FIND GANGSTERS OF ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL RACIAL, ETHNIC, AND CRACK, METH, ADDICTS, JUST COME UP TO SACRAMENTO AND STAY IN A SHELTER!!!!!THE FAST TRACK PROGRAM IS RAN BY THE COUNTY OF JERRY BROWN SACRAMENTO BIGGGGGGGGG TIME FOR FEDERAL SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS/THEY KNOW HOW TO PLAY THE GAME BETTER THAN ANY STATE IN THE UNION, NOT EVEN NEW YORK PLAY IT THIS WAY!!!!
    THANKS FOR ALLOWING THIS SITE, AND THANK YOU FOLKS FOR LISTENING TO MY FRUSTRATIONS

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