On January 14, 2013, MHP reached a major settlement in a lawsuit filed against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for systematic, generalized bias against disabled claimants by five administrative law judges (“ALJs”) in SSA’s Queens Office of Disability Adjudication & Review (“QODAR”). The proposed settlement provides relief to over 4,000 disabled New Yorkers, including new hearings and a combination of other reforms to protect due process rights and ensure the provision of fair and full hearings in future claims.
Under the settlement, approximately 4,000 individual denied disability benefits will be entitled to receive new hearings. The settlement also provides prospective relief to those denied in the future. For the 30-month period after the court approves the settlement, any claimant denied benefits by these five ALJs will automatically have their claim reviewed by the special review unit, and, if granted a new hearing, will have a right to a new hearing before other ALJs. The settlement is the largest of its kind and provides unprecedented relief.
The lawsuit, filed on April 12, 2011 in the Eastern District of New York, detailed a pattern of glaring and intentional legal and procedural errors and the persistent denial of claims. Reviewing courts often offered scathing assessments of the ALJs’ unprofessional conduct, calling their opinions, “deficient,” “incoherent,” “plucked from thin air,” “arbitrary,” and “illogical.” Reviewing courts further decried ALJ conduct that was “particularly egregious,” “exhibit[ing] bias,” showing “inappropriate hostility” toward benefit claimants, peppering claimants with “combative questioning,” showing “serious negligence,” and “trivializing” claimant impairments. This conduct in Queens had gone on for years before the lawsuit.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, QODAR had the third highest benefits-denial rate in the country and the highest benefits-denial rate in the New York region, based on data covering decisions from 2005 to 2008. Almost all of the ALJs named in the suit rank high on the national list of top claims deniers. On appeal, the Queens ODAR suffers one of the highest remand rates in the country.
The suit was filed in conjunction with pro bono counsel at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.