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Smith V. Berryhill – U.S. Supreme Court Reverses SSA’s Policy

On May 28, 2019, the U.S Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Smith v. Berryhill, 587 U.S. ____ (2019), reversing the Sixth Circuit’s judgment, holding that an Appeals Council’s dismissal of “a request for review as untimely after a claimant has obtained a hearing from an ALJ on the merits… qualifies as a ‘final decision… made after a hearing” within the meaning of 42 USC §405(g). In the case, the claimant’s attorney stated he filed a timely appeal to the Appeals Council.  The Appeals Council claimed they never received it and dismissed the case. As it was an issue of “timeliness,”  it has been SSA’s policy that dismissal’s for untimeliness are not “final” decisions and therefore, are not subject to judicial review. In other words, you couldn’t appeal to Federal Court, even if the SSA made a mistake, as they did in this case. The Smith v. Berryhill decision, authored by Justice Sotomayor, overturns this long-time SSA policy and allows for judicial review in Federal Court. The Court specifically stated mistakes occur at SSA during the administrative appeals process and concluded that the Court does “not presume that Congress intended for this claimant-protective statute… to leave a claimant without recourse to the courts when such a mistake does occur—least of all when the claimant may have already expended a significant amount of likely limited resources in a lengthy proceeding.”

The holding in Smith v. Berryhill is excellent news for claimant’s who are seeking judicial review in Federal Court. The Court held, however, that judicial review may not apply in reopening situations where the ALJ has specifically declined to reopen a prior application.  If you need help applying for disability benefits or appealing SSA’s unfavorable decision, call Cannon Disability Law – 1-800-732-2323.

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