In Social Security Disability (“SSD”) cases, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) can submit questions, called interrogatories, to a Medical Expert (“ME”). After the ME responds to the interrogatories, the ALJ must provide a copy of the response to the claimant and the representative and notify them of the right to comment, submit further relevant evidence, propose additional interrogatories to the ME, and request a supplemental hearing with opportunity to question the ME at the supplemental hearing. The ALJ is also required to provide the claimant and the representative with the opportunity to review the ME's response before the ALJ makes it an exhibit, unless the evidence supports a fully favorable decision.
I took over the SSD case of a 46 year old former police officer, now residing in Las Vegas, from another attorney after her application had been denied and she was scheduled for a hearing. While preparing the claimant for her testimony about a week before the hearing, I learned that the ALJ had received responses to ME interrogatories.
Because I had not been notified about interrogatories being submitted or responses received, it left only one of two possibilities. First, it could and should have meant that the interrogatory responses supported a fully favorable decision. Alternatively, it could have meant that the ALJ violated the procedural rules discussed above, which would provide concrete grounds for an appeal. Fortunately for the claimant, just a couple of hours before she was due to fly to New York for her hearing, the ALJ’s assistant notified us that he was approving SSD benefits and cancelling the hearing.