The US Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Berryhill Tuesday that Social Security Administration (SSA) disputes dismissed for timeliness may be subject to judicial review in a federal court.
This case stems from 42 USC § 405(g), which allows judicial review of “any final decision … made after a hearing.” Currently, individuals seeking review of a SSA decision must adhere to a four-step process. First, they must seek an initial determination on their eligibility. Then they must seek a reconsideration of the initial SSA determination. The claimant must then request a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge. Finally, they must request an appeal by the Appeals Council. Assuming that all four steps have been completed and the Appeals Council’s decision is final, then 405(g) allows for review in a federal court.
In this case, Ricky Lee Smith applied for disability benefits under Title XVI and entered a grey area of the four-step framework when the Appeals Council denied him an appeal for timeliness. Smith’s original claim for benefits was denied in 2012. In 2014 it was reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge who also issued a denial. In order for the Appeals Council to grant review, the Appeals Council requires that a request for review be filed within 60 days of the determination. Smith’s attorney claims to have filed a request for review in April 2014, conforming to the 60-day timeline and submitted a copy of the request. The Appeals Council only received this copy in September 2014 and never received the original. The Appeals Council treated September as the date of receipt and rejected review. Smith’s case then arrived here asking whether the Appeals Council’s decision was a final decision that he could appeal in federal court.
While two lower federal courts rejected review, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and issued Tuesday’s ruling for Smith. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the unanimous decision of the court that the Appeals Council’s decision is a “final decision … made after a hearing” and remanded the case to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to allow federal review to continue. Smith has not won his benefits, but has been granted the ability to argue for them in federal court.