Jan 12, 2013

Social Security Settles Class Action On Low Approving ALJs

     From the New York Times:
Thousands of poor Queens residents with debilitating conditions who were denied federal disability benefits would have their cases reconsidered, under a settlement proposal in a class-action lawsuit that accused judges of bias. 
The lawsuit claimed that five administrative law judges with the Queens office that reviews claims for Social Security benefits had presided over hearings that trivialized the applicants’ physical and mental impairments and subjected them to harsh questioning that often brought them to tears. Now, in a settlement accepted by the plaintiffs and the Social Security Administration, the agency has agreed to remove the judges from those cases, allowing applicants — many of whom have been unable to work for years — to appear before new judges. As part of the settlement, the administration would enact new policies against bias and establish a special unit to monitor disability claims for the next 30 months.  ...
However, one of the judges named in the lawsuit, David Z. Nisnewitz, was replaced as the chief of the Queens review board after the lawsuit was filed. As part of the agreement, he and the other four judges named — Michael D. Cofresi, Seymour Fier, Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld and Hazel C. Strauss — would be retrained....
Lawyers with the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which handled the suit pro bono, and the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit group, estimated that more than 4,000 cases — applicants who were denied benefits between January 2008 and the date of the settlement — would be reconsidered. ...
[T]he Queens board is already changing its ways. Before the suit, Judges Cofresi and Fier denied over 60 percent of the applications before them; those rates have dropped by more than half. The denial rates of Judge Nisnewitz and Judge Hoppenfeld also declined. Only the rate of Judge Strauss, who denied more than 80 percent of claims before the lawsuit, increased: In the most recent quarter, she denied 90 percent.
      I first posted about this class action lawsuit at the time it was filed in April 2011. I didn't say so at the time but I thought it quixotic. Hats off to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the Urban Justice Center.
     Here are the denial rates -- not allowance rates but denial rates -- of the individual ALJs involved at the time the class action was brought:
  • Strauss 81%
  • Fier 63%
  • Cofresi 63%
  • Nisnewitz 62%
  • Hoppenfeld 48%


Anonymous said...

i dont mind the resolution but none of the denial rates besdies alj strauss really stood out to me.

Anonymous said...

There are many ALJs across the country who have the same, or lower denial rates. Can we do anything about them?

Anonymous said...

We should cap Allowance rates at 30%. The average pay rate of most aljs is downright sickeningly too high.

Anonymous said...

Who believes that justice is determined by statistical percentages? I thought the standard is based on law and fact, not the odds. Of course, standards have been slipping for decades now. Too many ALJs act as if they are on the Supreme Court and lawyers act as if just by being there the case is decided in their favor. Too bad the government does not have a lawyer present at a hearing. Everyone deserves a fair hearing, including the taxpayer who is stuck with the bills.

Anonymous said...

The problem with these Judges was not just their statistics but their sickening treatment of claimants and lawyers. Also, I think after the Court approved discovery in the action the government realized it was just cheaper and less embarrassing to settle.

Anonymous said...

So what's an acceptable "rate of denial" for an ALJ? I guess every case shouldn't be decided on its on merits because that would be common sense. And to think the judges asked "tough" questions that made the claimants emotional. What ere they thinking? Just approve everyone. No one in this country wants to work hard anymore and a lot don't want to work period. We can just put everyone on the government dole and just keep printing money to cover the costs! If we tighten the standards for initial filing standards, we would t be in this mess anyway. But, SSA refuses to turn anyone away from filing. Broken finger - file a claim, fired from your job - file a claim, get angry at work a lot - file a claim. I see it every single day. People in this country just want the easy way out, then complain they can't survive on the payment they receive. Really? Shocking revalation! Poor in this country isn't even poor compared to other places. Seeing this side of America everyday has really changed my perception of the American public.

Anonymous said...

“Everybody has a hand out.”
“Everybody is on food stamps.”
“Everybody wants a check.”

It is very easy after dealing with SSA Disability and the public after a while to begin to fall into a trap of thinking everyone is trying to get benefits or get over on the government one program at a time. It seems this way simply because we spend 40+ hours a week talking with Claimants. In our line of work everybody is trying to get Disability. Thinking that everybody is trying to beat the system is the trap that DDS ADJs, SSA ALJs and FO/DO Claims Reps fall into for the same reason and why they act so negatively toward Claimants some times.

If you work at a doctors office everybody you talk to is sick, if you work for a help desk then everybody cannot figure out the instructions, and if you work the complaint line then everybody has a billing issue. The key is to keep it all in perspective.

A SSI CR is going to do nothing but Disability. TII with Disability, Surviviors and RIB think everyone wants more more more. Its because of who you are dealing with. The person that works at a Porche dealership sees things totally different.

Former CR TII and TXVI, now Advocate.

Anonymous said...

I agree, only one of those denial rates really sticks out to me.

And though i have no data, I have a sneaking suspicion that an area like metro new york city might just be prone to more...let's be charitable and call them "borderline"...applications than the average locale.

oh, and before Charles goes into boomers being more prone to disability--all of nyc's boroughs, especially Queens--have lower-than-average mediam age and generally younger population spreads. so yeah, higher denial rates to be expected.

Victor Bobier said...

The SSI program has very strict Medical standards in place on whose eligible, people have Disabilities that are hidden from view and the SSA does not give one SSI solely based on ones disability, there's ones age, education, ability to compete for a job. If You think SSI is laced with Fraud, You'll not find any, except between Yer own suspicious pointed ears, the benefits are not lavish or extravagant, heck their not even adequate, but then SSI haters don't know of what they speak, as they have no experience in this area, I on the other hand do, I've been disabled and unable to work since 2003, I'm 52 now and I'm lucky My OA(OsteoArthritis) that's in My shoulder blades that I've had since I was about 40 is being quiet right now, as are My bad & painful(grinding) ankle/leg joints that I'd gotten in late 2002 due to breaking a leg and dislocating the other leg as I fell, the surgery to implant 3 titanium screws did more damage, but like I said hidden disabilities, I also have swollen legs and feet now, lower back problems, My weight went up, plus I have some other problems, like a low output thyroid, bad eyesight, concentration problems, severe anxiety, depression. Some days I feel good and other days getting up can be painful on the knee joints and it's not predictable as to when I can be in pain, so until You've been disabled, hush, You don't anything about being disabled and getting SSI.

Anonymous said...

I just had a hearing in front of judge Cofresi and he brought up during the hearing that he apparently knows who killed my ex boyfriend. What the hell does that have to do with my mental or physical impairments? A 1998 murder has nothing to do with a SSI hearing. I was shocked and very disturbed. Confresi is bias and I'm very concerned about having him as my judge.