Questioning the behavior of an administrative law judge

The process one must go through to receive SSDI or SSI benefits can be time-consuming. A claimant must first complete an application and file a petition. If an application is denied, the claimant may file a request for reconsideration. If this request does not result in approval, a claimant may then request a hearing before an administrative law judge. An ALJ hearing should be an informal, non-adversarial proceeding. However, if the claimant feels that the ALJ who heard his or her case engaged in bias, unfairness, partiality or other forms of misconduct, the claimant has three options to address those allegations.

A policy interpretation ruling published in January 2013 addresses the means by which a claimant, a party or members of the public may pursue review of an ALJ's conduct. These three processes are:

  • The Appeals Council review process
  • The Division of Quality Service's ALJ complaint investigation process
  • The civil rights complaint process

The Appeals Council review process

When a claimant is unhappy with the decision of an ALJ or the dismissal of a hearing request, the Appeals Council has authority to act. In addition to reviewing allegations put forth by a claimant or party, the Appeals Council can initiate its own review of an ALJ's conduct. The only evidence that the Appeals Council may consider when making a determination is that contained in the claimant's administrative record.

When reviewing an allegation of the ALJ's misconduct, the Council must decide whether the ALJ abused his or her discretion during the hearing. The Council will find an abuse of discretion if the ALJ's action is erroneous and without rational basis or if he or she failed to follow procedures required by law. If the Council finds that the ALJ abused his or her discretion, it can either provide a decision or remand the claim for further administrative action. If the Appeals Council receives a request for review that is outside its jurisdiction, it will refer it to the Division of Quality Service.

The Division of Quality Service's complaint investigation process

The Division of Quality Service receives allegations of ALJ misconduct from claimants as well as witnesses, claimant representatives, agency personnel, Congress members and federal courts. The complaint must be in writing and must be filed within 180 days from the date of the conduct that is the subject of the complaint or the date the claimant became aware of the conduct. A claimant filing an insufficiently detailed complaint will have 30 days to rectify it.

If the Division of Quality Service decides that an investigation is necessary, it will forward the complaint to the appropriate Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge, who will perform the investigation and report its findings to the Division. If there is a finding that an ALJ engaged in the alleged misconduct, the ALJ may be subject to counseling, training, mentoring or disciplinary action.

Civil rights complaint process

Civil rights complaints may be filed concerning alleged discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or in retaliation for previously filing a civil rights complaint. The Office of General Counsel investigates and makes decisions regarding such complaints. A decision may take up to 180 days. If the claimant disagrees with the decision, he or she has 60 days to request reconsideration.

If you have a complaint about an ALJ's conduct during your hearing, you may wish to contact a lawyer who has experience with the entire Social Security Disability process. An attorney can help you understand the federal rules and regulations which apply to your situation.