The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently came out with a decision clarifying the term “hearing.” This stems from a case where an individual filed for disability benefits. She was denied at the reconsideration stage and given 60 days to appeal the denial, requesting a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The individual was just about to undergo a double mastectomy and assumed that her representative would file the request for a hearing. However, as is often the case, the Social Security Administration (SSA) failed to notify the representative of their client’s denial. Thus, the representative had no idea about the deadline to appeal. Once the representative finally realized a denial had been entered for the client an appeal was immediately filed, but it was seven months too late! In situations like this as long as “good cause” can be shown for the late filing SSA will continue on with the claim.
Unfortunately for this individual, SSA determined there was not sufficient “good cause” for the late filing and dismissed the case. The individual’s attorney then appealed SSA’s decision. The United States District Court refused to review the case claiming they did not have authority to review SSA’s decision. Federal courts are able to review SSA’s final decisions as long as a hearing is held in the matter. The District Court felt that since a hearing was not held then they were not able to review SSA’s decision to deny the individual of a hearing in the first place. The individual appealed the case to the court of appeals which found that a “hearing” simply means any process SSA deems adequate to produce a final decision.
Now all of this may seem very dry and technical. The reason I bring this to your attention is that this decision from the circuit court makes it even clearer that you need an attorney more than ever to help you with your claim for Social Security disability benefits. Had this individual not been represented by an attorney she would not have known her rights to appeal the decision. Even if the individual had hired a non-attorney representative to help her, that representative would not have been able to pursue the matter to the district court. Having an attorney assist you with obtaining disability benefits ensures you the proper representation and frankly that Social Security will not be able to push you around!