Lawsuit Claims Bias by Social Security Judges in Queens: I Wholeheartedly Agree!

June 10,2008
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Having made court appearances in all of the New York metropolitan Social Security hearing offices, it was with particular interest that I read a story in this morning’s New York Times about disability denials by judges in Queens, New York (“Suit Alleges Bias in Disability Denials by Queens Judges” by Sam Dolnick). According to the story, that particular hearing office has the nation’s 10th highest rejection rate this year to date, and had the third highest denial rate from 2005 to 2008. A class action lawsuit has now been filed alleging bias by the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs).
Of course, this is no secret to local practitioners who will do all they can to avoid having their cases heard at the hearing office in Jamaica (and previously, Fresh Meadows). I can speak from personal experience as to some of the allegations made in this morning’s article. In my 15 years of practice I’ve personally made well over a hundred appearances before the cited ALJs. As the New York Times states, often claimants and attorneys are indeed exposed to “combative hearings and a tone that one court called ‘brusque, intemperate and unhelpful.'” Disability lawyer Troy G. Rosasco—a respected colleague who we at Hermann Law Group work with on a regular basis—was quoted by the Times as calling the Queens hearing office, “the Social Security system’s Superfund site.” The five cited judges have denied 63% of the claims they hear as compared to the national average of 36%.
Also quoted in the article was D. Randall Frye, President of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, who characterized the allegations of bias as “sour grapes.” Speaking from personal experience, I can vouch for not only the high percentage of denials by these ALJs, but also an increased skepticism toward individuals who were not born in the United States or are otherwise unable to communicate in English. This is often reflected in decisions which challenge these claimants’ credibility by stating that one cannot survive in this country without a basic knowledge of the English language. I’m sure those claimants would join local disability advocates in calling Mr. Frye’s “sour grapes” characterization as more than disingenuous.
Brian M. Anson, Esq.