Only recently did we learn the rates at which Social Security Administrative Law Judges grant and deny the claims they hear. Of course, we disability lawyers would keep track of our own claims, and talked with other disability lawyers about their experience with local judges. But the big picture was never clear.
However, after a groundbreaking investigative article and Freedom of Information Act request by The Oregonian newspaper in December of 2008, the statistics for each and every ALJ became readily available. Today, the current stats for each ALJ can be found right on the SSA website.
Once you look at the allowance/denial rates for the various ALJs, it is striking how different they can be. The national average, reflected in 2010 statistics, is an allowance rate of 62% of claims that reach the hearing level. That average is a little higher here in Maine and New Hampshire.
Recently a federal lawsuit was filed against the SSA alleging anti-claimant bias from five judges in the Queens, NY hearing office. These judges, collectively, are allowing just 36% of the claims they decide. The lawsuit also alleges a pattern of very poor decision writing and a disregard for Social Security's own regulations governing how evidence, particularly medical evidence, is to be considered. All this has led to some bad feelings. Take a look at this post calling out Chief Judge David Nisnewitz as a bully.
These judges are being routinely reversed upon appeal to federal court. This is not surprising. If a judge is issuing unfavorable decisions in two out of three cases, there is just not time enough in the day to write defensible, legally sufficient decisions. More importantly, that judge is very likely to be overlooking medical evidence favorable to the claimant. It's hard to fight the law of averages. If you are just granting 36% of cases, those unfavorable decisions are going to be wrong about half the time.