Taking away Social Security Disability Claimants' Day in Court
The Federal Government is proposing to take away Social Security Disability Claimants' day in court. Proposal: Setting the Manner for the Appearance of Parties and Witnesses at a Hearing can be found here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=SSA-2017-0015-0001. Under this proposal, the Social Security Administration will determine the manner in which the claimant will appear at the hearing (by video teleconference, in person, or in limited circumstances by telephone). This proposal takes away the claimant's right to opt out or object to appearing in the manner that the Social Security Administration chooses. Furthermore, although the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may identify case specific facts that affect which matter of appearance is most effiecient, the Social Security Administration will have the final responsiblity to determine in which manner the individual must appear.
This proposal is a drastic change from the current policy. Currently, Social Security Disability claimants have the right to an in-person hearing, or in other words, they have a right to their day in Court. This right is essential to the American legal system and to assuring access to justice for every American.
Currently, after the Request for Hearing is filed, the hearing office sends the claimant a notice and gives 30 days for the claimant to return a signed Objection to Appearing by Video Teleconferencing. The notice also includes the SSA's publication on Why You Should Have Your Hearing by Video. But, it is the claimant's choice. As long as the claimant timely objects to appearing by video, the claimant will be scheduled for an in-person hearing in which the claimant is in the same room as the live ALJ who decides the case. From 09/29/2018 through 11/30/2018, the Billings Office of Hearings Operations conducted 466 hearings (298 hearings by video and 168 hearings in person). See https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/06_Hearings_Held_InPerson_Video_Report.html.
In Montana, claimants reportedly wait an average of 16 months for an ALJ hearing. Many claimants want an in-person hearing. After all, the ALJ hearing stage is when the claimants talk directly to the person who makes the decision on their claim. It goes without saying that a Judge will be in a better position to judge the claimant's disability claim by being in the same room with the claimant. Even when video technology works well, the Judge's view is restricted and limited.
If you believe that claimants should retain their right to an in-person Social Security hearing, please comment at regulations.gov before January 14, 2019. Like you, Murphy Law Firm fiercely believes that undermining anybody's right to their day in court undermines the legal system as a whole.
If you are one of 4,440 claimants waiting for a hearing through the Billings Office of Hearing Operations and you need representation for a Social Security Disability hearing, please contact Murphy Law Firm today at (406) 452-2345, or visit us at murphylawoffice.net.