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Federal Courts Implement Changes for Handling Social Security Cases

March 28, 2016

Remember back to law school days and learning in Civil Procedure class the essential elements for commencing a civil action, including filing and serving a complaint?  Now forget most of those rules if you practice Social Security law in federal court.  In addition to changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, some of New York’s District Courts have also implemented changes in how they process Social Security cases.

Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure has changed regarding the time limit for service.  The Rule now provides that a defendant must be served within 90 days after filing the complaint, as opposed to 120 days in the original Rule.

N.D.N.Y.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (N.D.N.Y.) has implemented sweeping changes to Social Security practice, embodied in new General Order 18. http://www.nynd.uscourts.gov/sites/nynd/files/general-ordes/GO18_PILOT.pdf


These new rules took effect on February 1, 2016. Cases are initially assigned to Magistrate Judges instead of District Judges.  After filing, the Clerk will send a Notice of Social Security Case Assignment to each party, which notifies the plaintiff of his or her right to consent to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction.  If the plaintiff timely consents within 21 days by completing a consent form, the case is assigned to that Magistrate. Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), if the plaintiff consents, the Magistrate’s decision is final and appealable to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

If the plaintiff does not timely consent (or if the government withdraws consent), the case will be reassigned to a District Judge, and the District Judge will subsequently refer the case to that same Magistrate for a report and recommendation. Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), objections to the Report & Recommendation may be filed to the District Court Judge within 14 days.

The new rules also establish a Pilot Program that began on February 1, 2016, and will stay in effect indefinitely.  Under the Pilot Program, service is electronic instead of by certified mail.  The CM/ECF will generate a Notice of Electronic Filing upon case assignment and case opening. This notice will be sent electronically to the U.S. Attorney and to the Regional Counsel for the Social Security Administration in lieu of service by the plaintiff.  The plaintiff must also file a Social Security Identification Form, available at http://www.nynd.uscourts.gov/sites/nynd/files/forms/SSA_ID_form_FILLABLE.pdf

There have also been changes regarding the timing and filing of briefs.  After service of the complaint and the Social Security Identification Form, the defendant Commissioner of Social Security has 90 days to file the certified transcript of the administrative proceedings, which constitutes the defendant’s answer (or the defendant can file a motion to dismiss within 90 days).  After the defendant files the certified transcript, the plaintiff has 45 days to serve and file a brief.  After service of the plaintiff’s brief, the defendant has 45 days to serve and file a responsive brief.  If the plaintiff requests a remand based on “new and material evidence,” the plaintiff must file a formal motion for remand.

E.D.N.Y.

The Eastern District of New York (E.D.N.Y.) has also made several changes regarding the filing of Social Security cases, contained in Admin Order 2015-05, effective June 2015. https://img.nyed.uscourts.gov/files/general-ordes/AdmOrder2015.pdf. The defendant has 90 days after service of the complaint to file and serve the administrative record, which constitutes the defendant’s answer. 

If the plaintiff is represented by counsel, the plaintiff must file and serve a motion for judgment on the pleadings within 60 days of the defendant’s filing the administrative record.  The defendant has 60 days after service to respond. The plaintiff then has 21 days to file reply papers, if any.

However, if the plaintiff is pro se, the defendant must file and serve a motion for judgment on the pleadings first, and the motion must be served within 60 days of the filing of the administrative record.  The plaintiff then has 60 days after service to file a response, and the defendant has 21 days after that to file a response, if any.

W.D.N.Y.

The Western District of New York (W.D.N.Y.) made several changes regarding the filing of Social Security cases in 2013, and those changes have been incorporated into Rule 5.5 of the court’s Local Rules. http://www.nywd.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/2016_civil.pdf.

Also see http://www.nywd.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/Social%20Security%20Standing%20Order.pdf.  The defendant has 90 days after service of the complaint to file the certified copy of the administrative proceedings, which constitutes the defendant’s answer. 

If the plaintiff is represented by counsel, the plaintiff must move first, and has to file and serve a motion within 60 days of the filing of the defendant’s answer.  The defendant then has 60 days after service to respond (as long as the court does not set briefing deadlines by order).  The plaintiff then has 21 days to file and serve reply papers, if any.

If the plaintiff is pro se, all dispositive motions must be filed and served within 60 days of the defendant filing an answer.  The parties have 60 days after service to respond to these motions (as long as the court does not otherwise set a briefing deadline by order).  The parties then have 21 days after service to file and serve reply papers, if any. Finally, memoranda in support of or in opposition to a motion must not exceed 30 pages, and reply memoranda must not exceed 10 pages.

S.D.N.Y.

Apparently in the Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y.), each District Court Judge or Magistrate Judge has individual rules on procedures to be followed in Social Security cases. Please be sure to acquaint yourself with those rules if you practice in this District.

Thanks to Albany Law School intern Richard White for compiling the various Social Security case rules from each District Court for this article.

 





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