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When the Secretary of Health and Human Services fails or refuses to provide a disability claimant with the fair procedures to which the claimant is entitled, a court may remand the case to the Secretary with instructions to afford the claimant fair treatment.
Plaintiff Mirta Rosa, a fifty-year-old woman, was diagnosed as suffering from ulcerative colitis and uncontrolled diabetes mellitus. Since her hospitalization in 1982, plaintiff has not returned to work. Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services denied her application. On remand to an administrative law judge (ALJ), the ALJ issued a recommended decision in which he found plaintiff not disabled and recommended that she be denied disability insurance benefits as well as supplemental security income. The Appeals Council adopted the findings and conclusions of the ALJ. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and also argued that the Secretary denied her due process and her statutory right to a hearing.
Under the circumstances, was the plaintiff denied due process and her statutory right to a hearing?
The court vacated the Secretary's decision and remanded the case a second time for a full and fair administrative hearing. The court held that the administrative hearing conducted in the matter fell far below the minimum standards required under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 401(b)(1). The court found that the ALJ's most pressing concern was expedience and that the hearing was shameful in its atmosphere of alternating indifference, personal musings, impatience, and condescension. The court also found that the ALJ showed contempt for the Act because he became convinced that the claimant was not entitled to benefits for the first two years of her claimed period of disability and used his conclusion to turn the hearing into a cheap bargaining session. The court accordingly concluded that the ALJ's combined errors created an unfair hearing in the case. Because the hearing transcript so vividly demonstrated an abject violation of the claimant's statutory rights, the court did not reach he merits of the disability claim.