Justices decisively reject imposing issue exhaustion on Social Security claimants

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Justices decisively reject imposing issue exhaustion on Social Security claimants

Opinion analysis

From Ronald Mann


at 4:18 pm

The Supreme Court on Thursday strongly denied the government’s request that the court impose a “problem exhaustion” requirement on social security claimants. In Carr v. Saul (consolidated with Davis v. Saul), all parties agreed that these claimants must first file their claims with the Social Security Agency – and these claimants have done so. The question was whether they need to raise in front of the agency any questions they might raise when they go to court. In this case, for example, applicants in the agency’s 2013-2015 proceedings were unaware that a 2018 Supreme Court decision would invalidate the SSA’s process of appointing administrative judges, and so did not complain to the agency about that process. The lower courts found that since they did not have the certainty to raise this issue in front of the agency, they could not raise it now and therefore would not be able to get an appeal for the rejection of their claims by an unlawful administrative judge. Although four of the judges disagreed with minor aspects of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s court opinion, all of the judges rejected the decisions that imposed that requirement.

Sotomayor’s opinion begins with that “[a]Administrative review systems typically require parties to give the Agency an opportunity to address an issue before requesting a judicial review of the issue.[t]ypically… are creatures of law or regulation. “Since there is no law or regulation in this case, the government sought a” court-created requirement for exhaustion of problems “. Sotomayor further states that the courts usually assess the adequacy of court-created exhaustion requirements based on the degree to which the analogy to normal adversarial litigation applies in a given administrative proceeding. In previous cases, it was found that “the key characteristic that distinguishes adversarial proceedings from inquisitorial proceedings is whether applicants have the responsibility to develop questions that need to be examined by the judges”.

Sotomayor starts from the “baseline” which is determined by the earlier decision of the court in Sims v. Apple, which allowed applicants to raise questions in court that they had not raised in front of the Agency’s Appeals Council. The same provisions that Sims was about applied to this case, which examined the somewhat different question of whether applicants must exhaust problems before the agency’s illegally appointed administrative judges. Sotomayor cites provisions of these regulations which, among other things, provide for an “informal, non-controversial” hearing and oblige ALJs to “loo”[k] fully address the issues ”and suggest that when requesting a hearing it should only take“ 10 minutes to read the instructions, gather the facts and answer the questions ”.

These regulations suggest that holding Sims “applies equally to ALJ procedures”. However, Sotomayor stops basing the decision directly on Sims. Rather, it relies on “additional considerations” in relation to the challenges presented here in connection with appointment clauses and notes in a footnote that “the scales may turn differently for other types of claims”. For the assertions presented here, it is important that the decisions of the authorities “are generally unsuitable for addressing structural constitutional challenges”. This is especially important if it were pointless to bring them to the agency: “It makes little sense to require litigants to bring claims to judges who are unable to provide the relief requested.” It is senseless to raise the appointment clause in the hearings of the applicants, Sotomayor comes to the conclusion that the applicants are entitled to relief before the lower courts.