The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the consolidated cases of Davis v. Saul and Carr v. Saul on Wednesday.
Both cases seek to address the issue of whether a claimant seeking disability benefits under the Social Security Act must first raise an issue before the Social Security Administration (SSA) if they wish to raise that issue on a judicial review of the SSA’s final decision. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that claimants must exhaust all administrative remedies by appealing to the administration in question before seeking remedy in federal court, but the court has not said much on the issue of what the claimant must present before the administrative law judge (ALJ) before they can bring the issue in federal court.
The circuit courts in both Davis (Eighth Circuit) and Carr (Tenth Circuit) chose to maintain the general rule that an issue must be raised by the claimant before the agency in order to seek judicial review on that issue. In this specific case, the appellants are challenging the ALJ’s decision on the basis that the ALJ was not properly appointed and therefore did not have the authority to issue a ruling. The appellants’ argument hinges on the case Sims v. Apfel, which held that a judicially created requirement of issue-exhaustion does not apply to Social Security claims. They also argue that if there were to be an issue-exhaustion requirement prior to petitioning for federal review, that it must be clearly communicated to those claimants who are seeking a remedy from the court.
The court has not yet issued their ruling for these cases, but it is unlikely that they will choose to limit the holding from Sims, which was authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, and impose a rule that the SSA has the ability to change through regulation.