Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bench Decisions

Since I prepare my Social Security Disability (“SSD”) cases thoroughly, I usually have the evidence that merits submitting an on-the-record (”OTR”) request for a fully favorable decision. If the OTR is approved, then the claimant receives SSD benefits without needing a hearing. However, sometimes it may not be possible to submit an OTR. In those circumstances, requesting a bench decision should be considered.

An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) can orally issue a bench decision, which is always fully favorable, that explains his reasons for granting the application at the hearing. The written decision that is issued a few days later is just a few paragraphs, and typically follows a template set forth in ALJ rules called the HALLEX.

I was retained by a 26 year old former dog groomer just a couple of weeks before her hearing. While there was no opportunity for submitting an OTR, the claimant’s case was well supported, and ALJ Crawley issued a bench decision today on the case. By doing so, ALJ Crawley saved time because he or a staff attorney did not have to spend the extra time it would have taken to prepare a typical fully favorable written decision.

The Social Security Administration is urging greater productivity from ALJs. Therefore, it would seem to make sense for ALJs to use the bench decision procedure more often. If an ALJ is inclined to approve a claim, then simply making the request to an ALJ for a bench decision might persuade him or her to use the procedure particularly if the ALJ’s caseload is overly burdened at the moment.

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