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Winning Social Security Cases in Federal Court: Can it be Done?

On Behalf of | Aug 5, 2011 | Legally Speaking

Very few attorneys take their Social Security cases into Federal District Court and even the ones that do take very few.  Susan O’Malley, a Board Certified Social Security Disability Specialist by the North Carolina State Bar has made a practice of taking her cases, those that she believes she has an argument, to Federal Court and she has been very successful.  In fact, Susan has taken and won a case at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals; Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F. 3d 559 – Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit 2006 one step below the United States Supreme Court.

How To Get A Case Into Federal Court

To get a case into Federal Court, a claimant must have filed an application which was denied, filed a motion to reconsider the initial decision which was denied, filed for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge which was denied, filed for reconsideration by the Appeals Council which was denied and then finally, filed a lawsuit against the Commissioner of Social Security in Federal District Court. There are three Federal District Court Districts in North Carolina. Those are the Western, Middle, and Eastern Districts.

How To Appeal A Denial In Federal Court

An appeal from a denial by the Appeals Council must be filed within sixty (60) days of the receipt of the denial. 20 C.F.R. § 404-981 Social Security assumes that the letter is received within five (5) days after the date stamped on the denial letter. The complaint must be filed in the United States District Court for the judicial district in which the claimant resides.

Review In Federal Court

The review of a final decision of the Social Security Administration concerning disability benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 39-406, is limited to two determinations. First, whether the Social Security Administrations findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. Second, whether the correct law was applied.

Hayes v. Sullivan, 907 F. 2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Section 405 (g), governing judicial review of final decisions of the Social Security Act relating to disability benefits provides that the Social Security Administration’s finding of fact shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. 405 (g) (Supp. 1993). This means that Federal Court cannot look at the case anew. The Court is looking to see if the record supports Social Security’s findings and whether the law was applied correctly. Whether the Court would have reached the same result is irrelevant. You must prove that the Social Security’s decision was either not based on the proper law or not based upon substantial evidence.

This incredibly difficult standard is why only a few cases are appealed to Federal Court and why so few attorneys can, as Susan has done repeatedly, prevail in Federal Court. In addition to Susan, Joe Tunstall has also argued successfully in Federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  Recently, Joe argued two successful cases in front of Judge Boyle, one of the most respected jurists in the Federal System, for very deserving clients.  Joe has also handled cases for years in the Eastern District.


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