When most Social Security Disability applicants file their initial claim for Social Security Disability benefits, they rarely imagine that their case will end up in a Federal District Court. They probably assume, at the most, that they will need to undergo an informal disability hearing before an administrative law judge before being awarded disability benefits. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
If you have been rejected at all previous stages of the appeal process, have been denied by the administrative law judge who heard your disability case, and your request for an Appeals Council review was rejected, you may indeed find yourself in Federal Court fighting for your Social Security Disability benefits. The following information will help explain what to expect and how this stage of appeals is different from the others.
Get an Attorney
The first thing you need to do when taking your case to the Federal District Court is get a qualified Social Security Disability attorney. While disability advocates may have been able to represent you up to this stage of the appeal process, this will no longer be the case. Only a lawyer who is licensed to practice law can take your appeal any further. If you have not yet retained the services of a qualified Social Security Disability attorney, now is the time to do it.
This Appeal Isn't Free
Another thing you need to understand when taking your case before the Federal District Court is that this stage of appeal may cost you money. Up to this point, you will not have not incurred any fees for filing appeals nor has your disability attorney or advocate, since he or she has been working on a contingency basis. At the Federal District Court stage of the appeal process, however, that all changes.
The Federal Court requires that a fee be paid in order to file your disability case. If there is no way that you can afford this, you may qualify for a waiver. You will, however, have to ask for this waiver in writing and will need to provide evidence of why you cannot afford it.
Filing the Appeal
When you and your disability attorney decide to take your case to the Federal District Court, your lawyer will file a “complaint.” This complaint gives the Federal Court a run-down of why you are appealing the SSA's decision to deny your disability benefits. The complaint is then served on the Social Security Administration. To break it down into very simple terms, it is at this point in time that you are suing the Social Security Administration for not granting you disability benefits.
What Happens Next?
Once the Social Security Administration receives your complaint, their lawyer will file a response. This “answer” will provide the Federal District Court with reasons why the Social Security Administration believes that you are not entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. During this stage, the SSA's attorney will also provide the Court and your lawyer with an exhibit file and a written transcript of your Social Security Disability hearing.
Many people assume that they will have to appear in the Federal District Court for a loud and stressful hearing in order to win their Social Security Disability case. This is not necessarily the case. Most of the “fighting” is done in writing with written briefs being submitted by both the plaintiff (you) and the defendant (the Social Security Administration). In some cases, the Court may indeed request an oral argument of your case. If this does happen, your lawyer and the lawyer who represents the Social Security Administration will argue your case before the Federal Judge behind closed doors.
After all the briefs have been filed by all parties, the Judge who is overseeing your case will decide whether or not to rule in your favor. Sometimes it can take a year or more for a ruling to happen. When it does, one of three things will occur. The Federal District Court will either deny your benefits, reverse the Social Security Administration's decision and grant you Social Security Disabliity benefits, or send your case back to the Social Security Administration for further review.
If the Federal District Court does deny your Social Security Disability case, all hope is not yet lost. You can still further your disability appeal by taking it to the Federal Circuit Court. This step, however, is one that you and your lawyer will need to discuss together in detail.