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Stacy v. Colvin: SSDI Appeals

In Stacy v. Colvin, a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, claimant alleged that the administrative law judge (ALJ) violated two rules applicable to Social Security Disability Insurance benefits appeals.  An ALJ is a hearing officer that is hired by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) to hear claims that have already been administratively denied.

1034029_medicine_2He first filed a claim for benefits saying that he first became disabled in 1994.  The reason he was disabled was because of gout, chest pain, vision issues, and fatigue. He also reported to having a heart condition of some type. Before becoming disabled, he had a long work history, as he had worked for 17 years as an engineer for the prison system in his state.  He was in charge of maintaining the boilers for the massive facility. 

The normal process by which a disability benefits appeal gets to the United States Court of Appeals for the circuit in which jurisdiction lies is for the claim to be denied in writing, then denied for reconsideration in writing, and eventually denied before an ALJ.  At this point, the claimant can appeal to the United States District Court, and if that does not go well, then the claimant can appeal to the United States Court of Appeals.  As if that was not a long enough process, in this case, the claim went up and down through the various courts multiple times on different issues until finally making its way to the appellate court.

While this is technically not the highest federal court, as there is the United States Supreme Court, absent a constitutional issue, it is unlikely that an SSDI appeal would go any higher than a United States Circuit Court.  It should be noted that appeals process is highly complex, and the best thing you can do if your claim is initially denied is to speak with an experienced Boston disability attorney as soon as possible.

The reason for all of the problems in this case was the claimant asserted that his job as an engineer required heavy lifting, and the Vocational Expert (VE) found that claimant could do many other types of work in the local or national economy.  A VE is supposed to provide an independent analysis, as is the ALJ, for that matter, but since they both work for SSA, it is commonplace for their decisions and opinions to favor a denial of benefits.

The claimant asserted that the ALJ violated what is known as the law of the case doctrine.  This law of the case doctrine means that once a judge has decided something in a particular case, or made a particular finding of law or fact, that decision will control the rest of the case, even if the case is dismissed and later reheard.

While the court of appeals agreed that this was a valid doctrine and did apply to Social Security disability cases, the court determined that the judge did not violate the rule in this case by making a finding and then finding differently on the same facts later in the case, as argued by the claimant.

If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Stacy v. Colvin, June 7, 2016, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Mabry v. Colvin: Social Security Disability for Mental Illness, March 27, 2016, Boston SSDI Lawyer Blog