The Supreme Court of the Unites States (SCOTUS) recently adopted amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) that will apply to appeals of Social Security claims. The new supplemental rules, which take effect on December 1, 2022, govern all stages of a federal court action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and are meant to create a simplified, uniform procedure for the district courts to follow.
The current procedure allows each district court, all ninety-four of them, to establish local rules or standing orders governing Social Security appeals. The district courts decide the form of complaints, service, answers, motions, briefing and the timing for each stage. But a study by the Administrative Conference of the United States, a federal agency whose mission is to make government “work better,” showed a lack of relative uniformity throughout the United States. Instead, the districts’ rules vary widely.
Where the new rules conflict with local rules or standing orders, district courts will need to amend. For example, Rule 5 eliminates joint statements of fact “as the means of review on the administrative record,” which some district courts have required. Supplemental rules six through eight establish deadlines to file the plaintiff’s brief (within thirty days of the answer), the commissioner’s brief (within thirty days of the plaintiff’s brief), and the reply brief (within fourteen days of the commissioner’s brief). This change will effectively cut in half the timeframes established by some district courts, including in New York.
The new rules were proposed by the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Judicial Conference is comprised of the Chief Judge of the United States, chief judges from each circuit court of appeals, a district judge from each of the twelve geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the United States Court of International Trade. The Conference, created by Congress in 1922, promulgates policy regarding the administration of federal courts in the United States.
Based on the Administrative Conference’s recommendations, the Judicial Conference proposed supplemental rules that apply exclusively to Social Security appeals. According to the Conference’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, two questions needed to be answered: whether adopting uniform rules as opposed to allowing district courts to write their own rules was appropriate, and whether the benefit of uniform rules outweighed the presumption of trans-substantivity, i.e., the uniform treatment of all cases under the FRCP.
The Committee decided the benefits of uniform rules for Social Security cases outweighed local autonomy and trans-substantivity and, in August 2020, proposed supplemental rules for public comment. The Judicial Conference reported “modest” response to this request for comment; most district court and magistrate judges supported the new rules. The Conference noted, however, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) opposed based on the theory of trans-substantivity. Instead, the DOJ recommended the development of a model local rule. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) submitted comments to the Judicial Conference, emphasizing the need for local discretionary control instead of setting Social Security cases apart. NOSSCR noted there would be less of a need to file an appeal in federal court if SSA complied with their own policies at the administrative levels.
The rules were unanimously approved (the DOJ abstained from voting), adopted by the Supreme Court, and transmitted to Congress. See FRCP Amendments.
Jennifer Karr, Senior Statewide Attorney for DAP, participated in the Western District of New York(WDNY) committee that proposed changes to their Local Rule 5.5 to conform with the new supplemental rules. Other district courts throughout the Second Circuit are presumably making their own changes. Advocates are advised to check their local rules.
Will these changes result in an increase in requests for additional time to meet the new, strict filing deadlines? Please keep us informed of whether your district courts duly grant these requests, or of other challenges faced under the new rules.