SSI Federal Court Appeal

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The federal court is the fourth and final level of appeals for a supplemental security income (SSI) claim. It’s good to understand what these courts do and what happens if you take your claim to them.

What does the Federal Court do?

The United States District Courts are trial-level federal courts that oversee hearings from a wide range of civil and criminal cases that fall under “federal jurisdiction”. Federal jurisdiction refers to the scope of power the government legally holds. Generally, for a case to escalate to this level, it has to arise under federal law. However, the popularity of a case may make it a matter of public interest and possibly influence new legislature.

The federal court was established to hear and decide over “all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, [and] the laws of the United States…” as quoted via the US Constitution, Article III, Section 2.

Essentially, they handle cases involving federal laws, constitutional issues, disputes between citizens of different states, cases involving federal agencies, and other disputes which may have public interest. 

The responsibilities of federal courts range from the following:

  • Interpreting federal laws and making sure they are consistent in their application to both historical and modern day cases.
  • Handling cases related to intellectual property, bankruptcy, antitrust, civil rights violations, and similar cases.
  • Mediating legal disputes between individuals and administrations, usually in the form of civil rights violations, procedural negligence, contract disputes, or challenges to government actions.
  • Safeguarding due process of law, or more colloquially known as the 14th Amendment,  so that claimants/plaintiffs have a fair and impartial hearing. Parties will always be granted the right to present their cases, cross-examine witnesses, and be heard by an unbiased judge.
  • Protecting constitutional rights, speaking of amendments, federal courts will often hear cases involving core rights like free speech, religious freedom, equal protection, and other constitutional issues.
  • Adjudicating criminal cases which violate federal laws. Usually in the form of white-collar crime, and, in more extreme cases, drug trafficking and terrorism.

There’s a number of more responsibilities the federal courts play a part in, but these are the meat and bones of what kinds of cases these courts play a part in. 

It is important to consider that federal courts operate and make decisions based on federal precedents, and not necessarily ones set by local administrative judges.

There are about 94 US District Courts across the country that are strategically placed to encompass all geographic regions of the US. If you live in Eastern PA, there is a District Court in Philadelphia and serves an entire range of legal matters for the eastern portion of the state.

How Can I Appeal to the Federal Court?

You’ll have 60 days to file a civil action with the District Court in your area from the moment the Appeals Council denies your SSI claim. Your SSI lawyer will advise you on whether or not it would be a good move to file and if your case holds enough water for the federal court to grant your request.

If you and your counsel are on the same page and decide to move forward with the claim, your attorney will file all initial papers electronically to the District Court, and from there, you’re on your way to appeal.

Here’s the steps you should expect from the federal court process:

  • Response
  • Gathering evidence
  • Pretrial motion
  • Scheduling
  • Preparation
  • Trial
  • Verdict

First, before even thinking about hearings, the defendant, or in this case, the SSA or their representatives, will have to respond to your filing. You will serve the defendant with a court summons (you don’t have to do it yourself, you can hire someone actually called a server) and they must file a response to the complaint. This is so the defendant is reasonably aware of the lawsuit or claim before the trial.

Now, evidence in an SSI claim will usually involve witnesses who interact with you in day to day life, co-workers, employers, doctors, therapists, anyone who can confirm completely and without a doubt that your disabilities are legitimate and qualify you for income. It will involve paperwork, such as documentation of your disabilities and doctor’s notes, any evidence your lawyer has unearthed which prove that previous similar cases reached a favorable verdict for their client, and anything that might further prove that the previous levels of appeals (council, ALJ, and reconsideration) all had technical errors or violations of any sort that led to an unfair verdict. 

This is also the time to prepare any new evidence. Typically, before you’ve even filed for action, you’ll have something new on the table that would merit a federal court appeal. This could be anything from a new medical discovery, an accident at work, or you discovered a new technical error on both the ALJ and appeals council’s part.

Either your attorney or the opposing counsel will make a pretrial motion which is essentially a clarification check; perhaps an attempt on the defendant’s side to dismiss the case entirely, or seeking the judges’ approval of certain undisclosed facts before a hearing.

The court will schedule the times for the hearings and deadlines for any other disclosure between your representation or the defendants before moving forward.

Counsels will prepare for trial. Depositions, cross-examinations, paperwork, anything that will strengthen argument development. Then, trial will commence as scheduled, and you and any witnesses, family, loved ones, will be in attendance at your local District Court. District Courts, appearance-wise, aren’t that much different from your state courts other than that the courtrooms – and the buildings by extension – are much larger. 

You will be asked to swear under oath, just like a deposition, and to testify. 

The judge and jury will take in all of the arguments presented by your lawyer and the defendant, and come to a verdict. This may take however long, from as short as a few hours in simple cases, to several days in more complex cases.

There could be a few outcomes of a verdict. One such outcome is, in the worst case, the federal court flat out denies your claim. The second is that a remand is in order, where it is sent back to the appeals council for further review (usually when there was indeed proof they had made a technical error). Another possible outcome is that you prevail, but the defendants dispute it further, and the case is relegated to a US Court of Appeals, which you will not be required for and the judges will solely be making a decision on the District Court’s verdict. 

And finally, best case scenario is that you are fully granted your requests from the SSA without any dispute from the defendants, and all that’s left is to collect your awards.

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