A person whose Social Security Disability benefits claim is denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA) may eventually seek redress from a federal court by filing an appeal. As the District Court for the Northern District of New York explains in Borger v. Astrue, however, simply filing the initial appeal paperwork won't give the claimant much of a chance to get benefits.
The SSA denied Plaintiff Pamela Boger's Disability benefits claim, in which she asserted she was unable to work due to a number of impairments, including fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and a right knee injury. Plaintiff later appeared at an administrative hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who determined that Plaintiff was not disabled for benefits purposes.
Plaintiff then sought to appeal the ALJ's decision in federal court. A federal appeal of a decision by the SSA is typically commenced by filing a complaint - a short and plain statement indicating the basis of the court's jurisdiction, the allegations and a demand for legal relief - in a federal district court. Plaintiff filed the complaint, alleging that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. The SSA responded by filing an answer.
The court then instructed Plaintiff to file a longer legal brief, laying out her arguments in detail, within 45 days. Plaintiff, who was not represented by an attorney, did not respond within the deadline. The Court extended the deadline another 30 days, but Plaintiff again failed to file the requisite brief.
In granting the SSA's motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court noted that Plaintiff's failure to file the brief would have been fatal to her appeal in other districts."While courts in our sister Districts have found failure by a Social Security plaintiff to file a brief on the merits to be sufficient grounds upon which to grant a defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, General Order No. 18 instructs against similarly conclusory treatment in this District," the Court explained. Nevertheless, the local court rule provides that a Social Security plaintiff's failure to file a brief means the court will consider an appeal "without the benefit of plaintiff's arguments and may result in a decision heavily influenced by the Commissioner's version of the facts."