What You Need to Know
- The case hinges on how strict an agency's standards for appealing administrative law judge decisions can be.
- Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that no exhaustion of remedies requirement applies in this case.
- The case is part of a long-running dispute over the constitutionality of federal agencies' administrative law judge programs and other dispute resolution programs.
People seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits have won a Supreme Court ruling that could affect a wide range of cases that involve federal agencies’ use of administrative law judges.
The court ruled 9-0 Thursday, in Carr et al. v. Saul (Case Number 19-1442), that the claimants did not have to attack the constitutionality of the Social Security Administration administrative law judge system when they first filed their cases to have the right to base appeals based on that issue today.
The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in 2018, in connection with Lucia v. SEC, that the Securities and Exchange Commission had been using an unconstitutional process to appoint administrative law judges in 2018. Other federal agencies had been using similar processes to appoint their administrative law judges.
The plaintiffs in the Carr case had started their SSDI claims before the Lucia ruling came out.
Lawyers for the Social Security Administration said the disability claimants should have exhausted their remedies at the start of the case, by questioning the constitutionality of the Social Security Administration claim determination system, to have a right to file an appeal based on the Lucia ruling now.
The Court’s Opinions
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, in an opinion in which all of the justices joined at least in part, that no exhaustion of remedies requirement applies in this case, because there is no law or regulation requiring Social Security disability claimants to exhaust remedies.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the Social Security Administration administrative proceedings are too informal and nonadversarial for an exhaustion-of-remedies requirement to make sense.
“A few regulatory provisions direct claimants to advocate on their own behalf by objecting to problems, including if the agency misidentifies issues before the hearing or if the ALJ [administrative law judge] is ‘prejudiced or partial,’” Thomas wrote.
“But these unsurprising reminders that a claimant should not sit idly on the sidelines hardly demand that the penalty for overlooking an argument is forfeiture. On the contrary, such a permanent consequence would be surprising in light of the flexible, ‘informal’ mechanisms that undergird the entire agency review process,” he explained.
The case is part of a long-running dispute over the constitutionality of federal agencies’ administrative law judge programs and other dispute resolution programs.