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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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