Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Padro ALJ Bias Class Action To Be Settled

If you were denied Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Jamaica, Queens, then you should be following the Padro v. Astrue, Civ. No. 11-1788 class action. The lawsuit alleges that ALJs David Z. Nisnewitz, Michael D. Cofresi, Seymour Fier, Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld and Hazel C. Strauss (the “Queens Five”) deny SSD claims because they are biased against claimants. A copy of the Amended Complaint filed in Padro can be downloaded from the Resources tab on my web site.

Two of the named class action plaintiffs in Padro are my clients. Both of their claims were recently remanded for new hearings. It appears that the remands are a prelude to the class action being settled.

The U.S. Attorney’s office represents the Queens Five. Recently, the U.S. Attorney’s sent a letter to Roanne Mann, who is the Magistrate Judge assigned to the Padro case. The letter provided plaintiffs’ counsel with a proposed formal settlement agreement to review. The parties will file a status report with Magistrate Judge Mann on September 10, 2012.

In connection with the settlement, it appears that the Queens Five have already been sent for some retraining. Additionally, a new ALJ has been installed to replace Nisnewitz as the Chief ALJ.

Among other things, the Amended Complaint seeks new hearings for disability claimants whose applications were denied by the Queens Five during the “Class Period.” Hopefully, the settlement agreement will provide that relief. While the “Class Period” has not been disclosed, presumably it will cover thousands of previously denied applicants seeking SSD and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits.

There are questions concerning the final settlement terms. What did or will comprise the retraining, and how will it differ from training previously received by the Queens Five? What happens if the retraining fails? What measures have been put in place to ensure that the Queens Five don’t revert to their old ways after retraining? If a claimant receives a decision from the Queens Five that makes the same type of mistakes that led to the class action, will the Appeals Council or other entity have the authority to take any corrective action?

When the court approves the final settlement agreement, I will make a copy available for downloading from the Resources tab on my web site. That order should contain information that identifies who is eligible to have their SSD and SSI claims reheard.

Please contact our office if you would like more information about the impending settlement to see if you will be eligible for a new hearing. If you are notified that you fall within the class and are entitled to a new hearing, consider hiring us to represent you even if you had another attorney previously. Troy Rosasco and I were the only two attorneys who submitted affidavits on behalf of the plaintiffs in the class action, and we have been instrumental in fighting for our clients before the Queens Five for bias for over a decade.

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