On March 4, 2021
Sarah Harris defends claimants in disputes over Social Security benefits (Art Lien)
Thursday’s argument in Carr versus Saul Follows the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. The Securities and Exchange Commission, Who considered that the process of appointing the judges of the Administrative Law of the Securities and Exchange Commission violates the constitution Requirement for appointments. Everyone agrees that the decision is in Lucia Apply to ALJs that resolve disputes over Social Security benefits. A case now before court could affect hundreds of claimants who have had Social Security cases handled by an improperly appointed Administrative Law Judge, and failed to bring the Appointments Clause case before an ALJ, but who raised it when their cases later reached federal court. The government convinced lower courts that the principle of “case exhaustion” prevents courts from considering appointments for plaintiffs who have not brought it before an administrative law judge.
The Supreme Court previously rejected this case exhaustion clause at the appeal stage of the agency’s social security proceeding (in a case called Sims vs. Apple, city, cat), And allowing plaintiffs to raise cases in court that they did not raise before the agency. The Sims The court argued that it was illogical to impose a requirement to exhaust the case in a non-adversarial proceeding, especially when the government did not provide any notice of this requirement to the plaintiffs. Question in Carr It’s the weather Sims It applies when the plaintiff fails to bring the case before an administrative law judge.
There were no fireworks while Sarah Harris was arguing on behalf of the claimants. Perhaps the most notable exchange was with Judge Samuel Alito, who challenged the notion that the plaintiffs were harmed by the initial unconstitutional appointment of ALJs, given that the government corrected that constitutional problem by reappointing the same two legal judges in accordance with the appointments clause thereafter. Lucia. “The administrative law judge was appointed by a low-level official, and now he is reassigned with all the others by the acting commissioner,” Alito said. “So is this ALJ now smarter than it was at the time of the hearing? More inclined to be favorable?”
For Alito, awarding hearings before a new administrative law judge “sounds like an enormous waste of time and money. How… can you hold taxpayers and other claimants accountable for this? They never get a chance to wait. Too much time will be wasted. And I really don’t see what has been accomplished. “
The most telling discussion in the Harris portion of the argument was the exchange with Judge Amy Connie Barrett, who asked whether “there are other agencies where this case exhaustion clause does not apply.” Harris replied that the same rule would affect the Veterans Affairs Administration and the Railroad Retirement Board, both of which imposed exhaustion rules for matters under the regulations. Barrett then emphasized the last comment: “So, in each of the other agency contexts, the rules for exhaustion of the issue are enforced through regulation?”
This assertion of the Social Security Administration’s failure to adopt a regulation requiring exhaustion of cases dominated the part of the argument that Austin Raynor put forward on behalf of the government. For example, Judge Clarence Thomas, author of Majority Opinion On SimsAsked if there is a “regulation on exhaustion,” he certainly knows very well that there is no. Then when Raynor admitted that he could not rely on a regulation, Thomas replied that if the exhaustion clause was “not legal and not regulatory … what is it based on?” Likewise, Judge Elena Cagan Raynor reminded that you “have informed the court at Sims, I think the SSA was the subject of the exhaustion of the case under review. The court specifically noted in this opinion that, of course, the SSA could adopt a regulation. I mean, if this was so important to the Social Security agreement, then it seems as if it wouldn’t have taken a lot of effort to have a regulation adopted. “
When it came Barrett’s turn again, I kept talking a bit about how illogical it was to impose an exhaustion clause in a non-adversarial context like Social Security hearings:
One of the reasons … in the adversarial system the condition of exhaustion of the issue logically is that both sides have every incentive to raise all the issues that would benefit them. In this type of proceeding, which is not hostile, what motivation does the prosecutor have to say to ALJ, “You know, you really can’t give me advantages and you can’t judge this procedure because your appointment had to be under the appointments clause”? Especially when … the plaintiff’s interest is in getting disability benefits as quickly as possible.
We cannot be sure of exactly what the opinion will say. Judge Stephen Breyer, for example, stressed the notion that courts rarely require the exhaustion of constitutional cases and that it would be pointless for plaintiffs to bring this particular claim before a judge who has no power to resolve it. Alito might write separately to stress what is a waste of resources. But it seems very likely that judges will pass judgment to the plaintiffs and it won’t take long to do so.