Unfavorable Hearing Decision from the Administrative Law Judge

If you receive an unfavorable decision after your Social Security Disability hearing, you have one more level of appeal to within the Social Security Administration to pursue your claim for disability benefits. You will want to consult with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney to review your options for an appeal.

Appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council

After receiving an unfavorable hearing decision by an Administrative Law Judge, you have the right to request a review by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. This request for review must be submitted in writing within sixty days of receiving the hearing decision. The Appeals Council has the discretion to uphold the decision or reverse it and send it back to the hearing office for a second hearing. Some of the factors considered by the Appeals Council include:

  • Whether there was an abuse of discretion by the administrative law judge;
  • Whether the administrative law judge decision contained an error of law; and
  • Whether there is substantial evidence to support the judge’s decision

The Appeals Council will require a second hearing when one or more of the three factors above are established. However, statistics show that in only one percent of the appeals will the Appeals Council determine that the disability has been established, and order payment of benefits. In another twenty to twenty-five percent of the appeals, the Appeals Council will find a defect in the unfavorable ALJ decision, and send the case back for another review by the hearing judge. Because of backlogs at the Appeals Council, the average processing time to respond to the request for review has averaged 15 to 18 months.

Appealing to the Federal Court

If the Appeals Council upholds the judge’s unfavorable hearing decision, the next step is a lawsuit in the federal district court. The federal court typically reviews the administrative law judge's ruling only for errors of law. As your Social Security disability attorney can explain to you, the court may also review some questions of the sufficiency of the evidence to justify the denial, as well.

Your chances of overturning an administrative law judge’s ruling at the federal court level are greater than at the Appeals Council level. However, more than half of federal court appeals of Social Security disability hearing decisions are denied. In addition, the federal court appeal process can involve considerable delays, even if a favorable outcome is ultimately reached. Your Social Security attorney can explain the timeline and costs of an appeal so that you can make an informed decision about how to pursue your appeal for disability benefits.