Author: Catherine M. Callery (Kate)| Louise M. Tarantino

There has been a flurry of exchanges on the DAP list serve recently inquiring about the availability of the “Stieberger Manual.”  Although experienced advocates know exactly what is meant by all things Stieberger, newer advocates may be left scratching their heads about this particular reference: is it a how-to book for who knows what, or a guide to driving with a clutch and shifting gears, or a reference to Talmudic Law?

The answer is none of the above. Stieberger v. Sullivan was a class action lawsuit filed in 1984 to challenge the Social Security Administration (SSA) policy of non-acquiescence in Second Circuit precedents. The district court initially granted plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction in 1985. The Second Circuit vacated the injunction in light of parallel proceedings in Schisler (another oldie but goodie better left to another article, although advocates should note that summaries of both Stieberger and Schisler, as well a number of other significant class action cases, are available at http://www.empirejustice.org/issue-areas/disability-benefits/litigation-legal-updates/).  In 1990, on remand, the district court granted, in part, plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.  The court declared SSA’s non-acquiescence policy unlawful.  The court denied SSA’s motion to dismiss.  The court found that SSA non-acquiesced in the following four Circuit holdings: (1) treating physician rule, (2) cross examination of authors of post hearing reports, (3) ALJ  observations of pain, and (4) credibility of claimants with good work histories.

SSA agreed to a settlement of the case that provided possible re-openings for almost 200,000 disability claims denied or terminated: (a) between 10/1/81 and 10/17/85 at any administrative level of review, or (b) between 10/18/85 and 7/2/92 at the hearing or Appeals Council level of review. Also, denials at any administrative level between 10/1/81 and 7/2/92 would not be given res judicata effect and thus would not bar subsequent claims for Title II disability benefits regardless of “date last insured.”

Part of the settlement also required SSA to provide its decision makers with a manual of all Second Circuit disability cases that were to be given precedential effect.  This, my friends, is the Stieberger Manual that has generated such interest recently. For New York disability advocates, the Stieberger Manual is as fine an example of literature as any of the classics. This compilation of favorable Second Circuit disability decisions gave our advocacy efforts an added boost at every level of SSA adjudication.

Now, more than a decade after its original release, the difficulty has been finding the actual Stieberger Manual.  Although most legal services offices received paper copies of the Manual when paper is all there was, like most paper copies of things, the Manual got lost, or misfiled, or recycled as trash.  Luckily, we have moved into the electronic age, and now know where the Stieberger Manual can be found on the internet.  Thanks to responses from several disability advocates, we are able to provide you with the online citation to the manual in HALLEX (Hearing, Appeals and Litigation Law): http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/hallex/I-05/I-5-4-13.html#I-5-4-13-ATT-C .

According to one advocate, the Manual provides a good, at-a-glance overview of significant issues to look out for and a starting point for research on case law in those areas.  Particularly for new advocates who are not that familiar with the legal issues in disability cases, the Stieberger Manual sets out issues on appeal that have been successfully litigated previously.

The only problem with the online version of the Stieberger Manual is that it only chronicles Second Circuit cases up to 1993 when the Manual was first published.  SSA did continue to update the Manual with supplements through 2003.  Although there was a 2000 sunset provisions to the Stieberger settlement, SSA continued to issue instructions on Second Circuit cases for several years thereafter.  It no longer sends out these transmittals.

Thanks to the efforts of Gene Doyle, those updated cases are available on the Empire Justice Center website, in the Disability section (http://www.empirejustice.org/issue-areas/disability-benefits/stieberger-manual.html).  While these more recent cases are not incorporated   in the topical index format of the original Manual, most include summaries of the cases that were transmitted to SSA adjudicators.  More importantly, they are – again thanks to Gene – in pdf format and thus searchable.