When a claimant receives a denial from Social Security’s Appeals Council, they’ve exhausted their remedies within the agency. But when a claimant disagrees with the decision, they can continue the process by filing a lawsuit against the Commissioner of Social Security in Federal Court. This is known as the Federal Court Appeal process.
How Does the Federal Court Appeal Process Work in North Carolina?
There are three Federal Court districts in North Carolina: the Western, Middle and Eastern districts. Claimants file a lawsuit in Federal court in the district in which they live and after receiving a denial from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Appeals Council.
As a reminder, individuals filing for disability benefits move through a progressive, four-stage process. They navigate to the next step in the process if their claim is denied at their current stage. The four stages of a Social Security disability claim include the initial application, the reconsideration stage, a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and at the last stage, a written argument presented to SSA’s Appeals Council.
Once a claim reaches the Appeals Council, SSA officials review the decision made by the ALJ at the hearing stage. If they uphold the denial of benefits, claimants have 60 days to determine if they’d like to continue their appeal at the Federal level.
Most claimants work with an experienced disability lawyer on their Federal appeal as the process is complicated and lengthy. Non-lawyer advocates cannot take a claim to Federal court.
During the Federal appeal process, a lawyer prepares a complaint that initiates the lawsuit. Then, the SSA’s lawyer files a response, referred to as an “answer.” The answer will include SSA’s reasoning as to why the claimant does not qualify for benefits.
Next, the claimant’s lawyer files motions in response and a written argument in support of the individual’s claim for benefits. In most cases, the Federal judge will review the documents at this stage and render a decision. In rare instances, a judge may ask the claimant and their lawyer to appear in person to argue their position before rendering their decision.
Social Security Disability Federal Court Appeal Outcomes
Federal court judges can make three possible decisions on a claim:
- They can uphold the denial.
- They can remand the case. (This means it goes back to the SSA for another hearing with an ALJ.)
- They can disagree with the denial and grant disability benefits.
When considering how to win a Social Security Disability Federal court appeal, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First, as with any appeal, a lawyer representing a claimant cannot introduce new evidence. The Federal judge will only consider whether the ALJ who originally heard the claim made mistakes. If they did, they may reverse the denial and grant benefits.
In these cases, disability lawyers who regularly represent claimants at Federal court can advise their clients as to whether mistakes were potentially made in their claim. If so, the disability lawyer may advocate advancing the claim in a lawsuit in Federal court.
One way to improve your chances of success is to be sure your lawyer raises all pertinent issues at your administrative hearing with the ALJ. This allows these issues to be raised if necessary, upon appeal. The SSA sends a written transcript of the initial disability hearing for the Federal judge to review. As part of your appeal, you’ll be referencing what happened at the hearing and a thorough transcript is important.
Above all, keep in mind that the chances of winning a Federal court appeal will vary based on the particulars of your claim. But, the process of appealing the claim can take well over a year, so we advise ensuring you have a strong claim and an experienced lawyer before moving forward.
Appealing your Disability Claim in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
If you have been denied Social Security disability benefits, our disability lawyers at Collins Price can help you with Social Security in Winston-Salem. We represent claimants at every stage of the process, from initial application to the hearing stage. We also take on a limited number of Federal court appeal claims as our caseload permits. Contact us today for a free consultation on your claim.