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Smith v. Berryhill

Supreme Court of the United States

March 18, 2019, Argued; May 28, 2019, Decided

No. 17-1606.

Opinion

Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Social Security Act allows for judicial review of “any final decision . . . made after a hearing” by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 42 U. S. C. §405(g). Petitioner Ricky Lee Smith was denied Social Security benefits after a hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ) and later had his appeal from that denial dismissed as untimely by the SSA’s Appeals Council—the agency’s final decisionmaker. This case asks whether the Appeals Council’s dismissal of Smith’s claim is a “final decision . . . made after a hearing” [***7]  so as to allow judicial review under §405(g). We hold that it is.

Congress enacted the Social Security Act in 1935, responding to the crisis of the Great Depression. 49 Stat. 620; F. Bloch, Social Security Law and Practice 13 (2012). In its early days, the program was administered by a body called the Social Security Board; that role has since passed on to the Board’s successor, the SSA. 1

In 1939, Congress amended the Act, adding various provisions that—subject to changes not at issue here—continue to govern cases like this one. See Social Security Act Amendments of 1939, ch. 666, 53 Stat. 1360. First, Congress gave the agency “full power and authority to make rules and regulations and to establish procedures . . . necessary or appropriate to carry out” the Act. §405(a). Second, Congress directed the agency “to make findings of fac[t] and decisions as to the rights of any individual applying for a payment” and to provide all eligible claimants—that is, people seeking benefits—with an “opportunity for a hearing with respect to such decision[s].” §405(b)(1). Third, and most centrally, Congress provided for judicial review of “any final decision of the  [*1772]  [agency] made after a hearing.” §405(g). At the same time, Congress made clear that review would be available only “as herein [***8]  provided”—that is, only under the terms of §405(g). §405(h); see Heckler v. Ringer, 466 U. S. 602, 614-615, 104 S. Ct. 2013, 80 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1984).

In 1940, the Social Security Board created the Appeals Council, giving it  [**69]  responsibility for overseeing and reviewing the decisions of the agency’s hearing officers (who, today, are ALJs). 2 Though the Appeals Council originally had just three members, its ranks have since swelled to include over 100 individuals serving as either judges or officers. 3 The Appeals Council remains a creature of regulatory rather than statutory creation.

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139 S. Ct. 1765 *; 204 L. Ed. 2d 62 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 3555 ***; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 837; Unemployment Ins. Rep. (CCH) P15,853; 268 Soc. Sec. Rep. Service 353

RICKY LEE SMITH, Petitioner v. NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 880 F.3d 813, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1951 (6th Cir. Ky., Jan. 26, 2018)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

Appeals, SSA, claimant, judicial review, final decision, merits, exhaustion, benefits, amicus, regulations, amicus curiae, deadline, untimely, argues, steps, federal court, Social Security Act, entitlement, deference, delegated, disability, courts, reopen, cases

Public Health & Welfare Law, Disability Insurance & SSI Benefits, Judicial Review, Reviewability, Reviewability, Exhaustion of Remedies, Time Limitations, Social Security, US Social Security Administration Appeals Council, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Administrative Law, Reviewable Agency Action, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Presumptions, Particular Presumptions, Rebuttal of Presumptions, Standards of Review, Deference to Agency Statutory Interpretation