There is no way to underestimate the value of having a good lawyer represent you in a Social Security Disability claim. In Courtney v. Colvin, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, typically friendly and supportive of claimants in most matters, recently made clear that courts – like the Social Security Administration (SSA) – aren’t likely to hold the hands of unrepresented individuals trying to navigate the claims system on their own.

Mr. Courtney filed a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, alleging that he was no longer able to work due to an unidentified impairment. Courtney sought benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. which makes payments to persons who are disabled, don’t have a work history and have limited income and resources.

The SSA initially denied Courtney’s claim and an Administrative Law Judge later determined that Courtney wasn’t disabled. The SSA’s Appeals Council denied Courtney’s request to review the decision via letter, which Courtney received Feb. 24, 2013. Courtney then filed suit pro se – that is, without representation by a lawyer – in the Eastern District April 29, 2013, asking the Court to overturn the Administrative Law Judge’s decision denying benefits. Although, a person challenging the denial of a Social Security Disability benefits claim must file suit within 60 days of receiving the decision, Courtney said he filed the complaint after the deadline expired because of illness, an address change and an incident in which his “identity was stolen.”

A magistrate judge reviewed the case. He concluded that the doctrine of “equitable tolling,” under which a court may extend filing deadlines for certain reasons, wasn’t applicable in this case. As a result, the magistrate recommended that the case be dismissed.

Despite Courtney’s objection, the District Court adopted the magistrate’s recommendation. “From the face of Mr. Courtney’s Complaint, it is clear that he did not comply with the 60 day limitations period,” the Court noted.

In order to be entitled to equitable tolling, the Court said Courtney had to show that “(1) that he acted with reasonable diligence during the time period to be tolled and (2) extraordinary circumstances justify the application of the doctrine.” It held that he failed to meet this burden. Specifically, the Court said Courtney didn’t show that any illness from which he suffered was so severe as to impair his ability to file the complaint on time. Nor did he establish how the alleged identity theft and address change left him unable to file a timely complaint.

“Even taking at face value Plaintiff’s claims that these events occurred, they do not appear to be the sort of extraordinary circumstances justifying equitable tolling,” the Court concluded.

Attorney representation doesn’t guarantee success in a Social Security disability claim, but an experienced disability lawyer can provide vital assistance, including by making sure that the client meets any and all filing deadlines and other procedural requirements.For example, our office is involved in a case where the Northern District of New York allowed late filing finding thta “extraordinary circumstances” existed.

If you or a loved one is considering filing a Disability benefits claim, contact the New York Social Security Disability lawyers at Hermann Law Group, PLLC. We are dedicated to providing high quality, personalized legal services. Please call or contact us to set up an appointment.