Once you have exhausted all of your administrative appeals by receiving a denial from the Social Security Appeals Council, you have the option of taking your case to Federal District Court. If you disagree with the Appeal Council’s decision, you can file a civil action where the Commissioner of Social Security is named as the defendant. Here, the standard of review is much stricter. At this level of decision-making, the attorney writes a brief which is a legal document that analyzes the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) decision in light of the medical evidence and any testimony while arguing that the ALJ failed to properly consider this evidence or otherwise failed to follow the law in making the decision. The Federal District Court appeal process is pursued by less than 1% of applicants. You must file a complaint within 60 days from the date of the denial letter from the Appeals Council.
The Federal Judge will rule one of these verdicts in your disability case: remand the case, uphold the decision or reverse the decision. First is Remand. This means that your Social Security case is going to be sent back to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to make another decision. When the Federal Judge decides to send your claim back to the ALJ for another hearing, it means the ALJ has to review his/her decision for errors. The Federal Judge will request the ALJ to review specific issues that were not given full consideration at the previous hearing.
The Federal Judge can also decide to uphold the original decision by the ALJ. This means you have lost the appeal as the Federal Court is agreeing with the ALJ’s decision. A Federal Judge can also decide to reverse the decision made by the ALJ which means you won. However, these types of decision are very rare and should not be expected.
Over 75% of the time, Federal Judges uphold the original decision made by the ALJ. Most of the remaining 25% of the claims will get sent back for review by an ALJ. Very few Social Security Disability benefits get approved at this level.
The appeals process for Federal District courts can get complicated and frustrating. It is important to keep in mind that Federal Judges look for legal mistakes made by ALJ’s which are included in the lawyer’s briefs. A lawyer will write a detailed initial brief, called a Motion for Summary Judgment, which points out how the ALJ made a legal error while making a decision. The Federal Court takes about 12-18 months before issuing a decision.