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Social Security Hearing Delay Lawsuit

January 13, 2016

Attorneys and certified legal interns from Miami Law’s Health Rights Clinic recently filed a federal suit against the Social Security Administration on behalf of 12 indigent and disabled clients who have been waiting as long as 26 months to secure a hearing or receive rulings from a Social Security judge.

The suit asks the government to compel the Social Security Administration to “promptly schedule, hear, and adjudicate” the claims of their clients. …

Miami has the longest wait times in the country. “We don’t know exactly why this is the case,” said Zach Lipshultz, a third-year law student in the Clinic, who is working on the case. “It might be due to a lack of administrative judges, or staffing, or something else with Social Security. It might also relate to the extreme poverty and extreme need for disability benefits in Miami-Dade County.” …

The problem with this lawsuit is that the Supreme Court ruled on something like it in 1984 in Heckler v. Day. The Court held that a class action could not be used to force Social Security hearings to be held within a time deadline. However, the Court did indicate that individual actions concerning delays at Social Security would still be allowed. It appears that the Miami case isn’t a class action, just a normal civil action that happens to have a number of plaintiffs seeking relief. If bringing a lawsuit on behalf of a number of claimants works, expect to see such lawsuits proliferating around the country.

For those who think that the federal courts wouldn’t possibly do something about the backlogs, don’t be so sure. There is a right wing majority on the Supreme Court but the lower courts, including most Courts of Appeals, are increasingly dominated by Democratic appointees. If the Courts of Appeals keep ruling for the plaintiffs in such cases, the Supreme Court probably won’t hear a case on the issue.

By the way, at the time of the Day decision the average hearing backlog was only about nine months or only a fraction of what it is today.

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