7th Circuit overrules decades-old precedent, orders more proceedings on benefits case

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal by a federal judge of a woman’s petition for judicial review of the decision to deny rehearing her request for Social Security disability benefits. In doing so, the judges overruled a 1980 7th Circuit decision with similar facts.

Marilyn Boley was denied benefits by the Social Security Administration. Instead of requesting a hearing by an administrative law judge within 60 days of the denial as is allowed by regulations, Boley took nine months to make the request. The SSA notified Boley of its decision to deny benefits but did not send the notice to her attorney. Boley was ill at the time and relied on her attorney to protect her interests.

When her lawyer requested the hearing, the ALJ dismissed the request. The ALJ ruled Boley lacked “good cause” for the delay in her request, so an extension of time to file is not supported.

Chief Judge Richard Young in the Southern District of Indiana then dismissed Boley’s petition for judicial review, ruling that the ALJ’s decision to dispense with an oral hearing means that he court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Young relied on 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g), which authorizes review of the agency’s final decisions, to make his decision.

This case hinges on what is considered a “hearing,” which Young assumed meant an oral procedure required by a statute or regulation. The 7th Circuit concluded that “hearing” means whatever process the SSA deems adequate to produce a final decision – a view that no court of appeals has explicitly adopted. The panel’s decision follows Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 763-67 (1975), and Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 326-32 (1976). Under those cases, Boley is entitled to judicial review of her contention that the agency mishandled her case.

But 34 years ago, the 7th Circuit Court in Watters v. Harris, 656 F. 2d 234 (7th Cir. 1980), held otherwise. Watters is materially identical to Boley’s situation, but in that case, the appeals panel dismissed for want of jurisdiction and held that the agency’s decision to not take oral testimony blocked judicial review. Watters made jurisdiction turn on the presence of a constitutional argument, but Monday, the panel decided that Watters is wrongly decided.

“The prospect of moving from one side of a conflict to another is not attractive, especially when the conflict is so old and the Supreme Court has been content to allow the disagreement to continue. Nonetheless, we have a duty to apply §405(g) the way the Supreme Court did in Salfi and Eldridge, and we very much want to give the statute a reading that avoids unnecessary constitutional litigation of the kind that Watters and similar decisions invite,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote.

Watters is overruled. This opinion has been circulated to all judges in active service under Circuit Rule 40(e). None requested a hearing en banc.

The District Court’s judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to decide whether substantial evidence, and appropriate procedures, underlie the decision that Boley lacks ‘good cause’ for her delay in seeking intra-agency review.”

The case is Marilyn R. Boley v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security 13-1252.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues