I-2-1-57.Assignment of Non-Service Area Cases to Administrative Law Judges
Last Update: 9/28/05 (Transmittal I-2-67)
A. Statement of Purpose
The practice of assigning non-service area cases to Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) for hearing must be viewed as a measure for resolving temporary workload imbalances or increasing productivity until more permanent measures can be taken. Before making such assignments, management must consider alternative approaches to balancing workloads: (1) temporary or permanent service area realignments (both intraregional and interregional); (2) the use of videoconferencing technologies to hold hearings; (3) temporary staff details/reassignments; and (4) long-term problems that require the hiring or transferring of ALJs and/or staff. If assigning non-service area cases to ALJs is necessary, Regions must use their own ALJs first, before requesting out-of-region assistance. Because the primary purpose of assigning non-service area cases to ALJs is to process workloads more quickly, do not assign non-service area cases to ALJs unless the assisting office can hear and decide them sooner than the assisted office. In addition to reducing processing times, additional benefits of assigning non-service area cases to ALJs include increased productivity and improved use of personnel.
Cases that are being processed electronically through eDib are not to be transferred under the provisions of this section.
B. Procedures of Policy
1. Authority for Assigning Non-Service Area Cases to ALJs
RCALJs are authorized to determine the need for and arrange the assignment of non- service area cases to ALJs within their regions.
The Office of the Chief ALJ (OCALJ) is responsible for determining the need for and the arrangement of the interregional assignment of non-service area cases to ALJs. To control costs, such assignments will be arranged between contiguous regions, when practicable.
2. Assignment of Non-Service Area Dockets to ALJs
Generally, the Hearing Office Chief ALJ (HOCALJ) of the assisting office will assign non-service area dockets to ALJs on a rotational basis. Once the assignment is made, cases cannot be returned to the assisted office for any reason without Regional Chief ALJ (RCALJ) approval (in the case of intraregional assignments), or OCALJ approval (in the case of interregional assignments). Disagreements between the assisted and assisting offices will be resolved by the RCALJ in intraregional assignment, and by OCALJ and both RCALJs in the case of interregional assignments.
The HOCALJ will assign non-service area cases to ALJs in a manner that will afford each ALJ, to the extent practicable, to hold the hearings by video teleconference (VTC). The HOCALJ will only provide the opportunity to travel to all available locations to each ALJ in the Hearing Office when VTC is not available, or a claimant has elected not to have his or her hearing conducted by VTC.
If it is necessary to assign non-service area cases to ALJs and VTC is available, and the claimant has not objected to the hearing by VTC, the hearing must be scheduled for hearing using VTC to save on travel expenses and time. The HOCALJ will make the assignment of cases on an established rotational basis. In the event an ALJ refuses to hold the hearings by VTC when the claimant has not objected to it, the HOCALJ will make the assignment in writing. If the ALJ continues to refuse the use of VTC when the claimant has not objected, the HOCALJ will bring the matter to the attention of the RCALJ, and if necessary, the RCALJ will refer the matter to OCALJ for further review.
If it is necessary to assign non-service area cases to ALJs when they do not wish to travel (but are capable of handling travel dockets) or do not wish to travel to a particular location, the HOCALJ will make the assignment on an established rotational basis. In the event an ALJ refuses to accept the docket, the HOCALJ will make the assignment in writing. If the ALJ continues to refuse, the HOCALJ will bring the matter to the attention of the RCALJ, and if necessary, the RCALJ will refer the matter to the CALJ for further action.
In general, the only acceptable reason for failure to accept an assigned docket is medical incapacity to travel. This applies both to intraregional and interregional travel. This provision is specifically limited to short-term medical reason(s), which is defined as any medical condition(s) that is expected to last for less than six months.
In situations in which the ALJ asserts a medical condition to be such that he or she cannot travel because of a medical condition that is expected to last for less than six months, the ALJ must obtain a physician's statement indicating the nature of the impairment, its effect on his or her ability to travel, and the expected period of incapacitation. The ALJ must forward the statement, through the HOCALJ and RCALJ, to the CALJ for review and decision. For medical conditions that are expected to last for more than six months, the CALJ will evaluate the request of the ALJ to be placed on non-travel status using Social Security Administration's reasonable accommodation policy.
In situations in which the ALJ indicates some other reason for his or her refusal to accept travel dockets (e.g., the need for the ALJ's presence at home to care for an ill family member), the RCALJ or CALJ will evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis. RCALJs may authorize temporary exemptions from travel requirements (i.e., up to six months). ALJs requesting exemptions of more than six months must forward their requests through the RCALJ to the CALJ for approval.
To permit expeditious processing of cases, the following types of non-service area cases will not be assigned to ALJs: cases without current claim files: retirement and survivors insurance cases, cases involving supplemental security income for the aged, continuing disability review (CDR) cases in which the claimant has opted to continue receiving payment of benefits pending the hearing decision, and cases requiring research into state law (if being assigned to an ALJ in another state). In addition, since Title XVI does not apply to Puerto Rico, the only non-service area cases which should be assigned to Puerto Rico ALJs are Title II cases and SSI cases in which disability is the only issue. When these limitations on the composition of a non-service area docket cause difficulty in forming a complete docket, exceptions to the limitations may be made if agreeable to the HOCALJs in both offices.
If a hearing office receives non-service area transfer cases that do not appear to require hearings (e.g., the ALJ decides that a case(s) may be paid on the record, or should be dismissed), the assisting HO will keep and process these cases to completion, but will obtain additional cases from the assisted office to ensure that the visiting ALJ will have a full docket of hearings.
Generally, the assisted HO will give preference to remote site cases over local (HO) cases. This will help keep travel costs to a minimum and free HO support staff to work on local cases. However, if the HO has a large percentage of local cases pending that are considerably aged, the HO will give preference to the local cases. Reducing processing times must be the primary objective when deciding whether to assign remote site cases or local cases to non-service area ALJs.
To the extent possible, the assisting HO will schedule hearings on non-service area cases within 60 days of receipt, or within a reasonable amount of time to permit a processing time that is comparable to or less than the average processing time for the assisted HO. (In the case of interregional assignments, OCALJ will advise the assisting RO of the assisted HO's average processing time; in the case of intraregional assignments, the RO will provide the information to the assisting HO.) The assisting HOs that frequently accept travel dockets may not always be in a position to schedule hearings within 60 days. In such situations, OCALJ and the affected RO (or just the affected RO in the case of intraregional assignments) will arrange to match these offices with the most heavily backlogged offices.
Assisting HOs must assign a sufficient number of cases to ALJs to comply with applicable Travel Regulations. The appropriate number will vary, of course, depending on whether the non-service area cases are local and can be held by use of videoconferencing technology or remote site cases and, particularly in the latter instance, the amount of official time required to travel to the remote site, if videoconference technology is not available at the remote site. To increase the cost-effectiveness of ALJ travel, the Chief Judge's Office will encourage ALJs to accept two or more weeks of hearings in any location in the country that needs help along with holding hearings using videoconference technology when such is available.
3. Coordination of Visits, Observance of Local Practices and Responsibilities of Assisting and Assisted Offices
The HOCALJ of the assisted HO will prepare a memorandum containing all pertinent information on local HO practices and court requirements. The memorandum must include data on scheduling practices, use of expert witnesses, acquiescence rulings, local practices on the provision of file copies to claimants, representatives and witnesses, and any other information which would assist the visiting ALJ. This information must be provided to the assisting HO at the same time that the cases are mailed.
The assisted HO must also provide the assisting HO the names and phone numbers of expert witnesses, contract hearing reporters and interpreters. As a rule, assisting ALJs must use expert witnesses from the rosters of the assisted HO rather than those on their own rosters. It is the assisting HO's responsibility to arrange for the appearance of expert witnesses, contract hearing reporters and interpreters and to prepare any necessary purchase orders. When preparing the purchase document, the assisting office's Common Accounting Number (CAN) must be used, and the information included in the assisting office's WebBass administrative and budget system. This is so that cost-per-case data will be as accurate as possible. Because the case disposition will be credited to the visiting ALJ's office, the costs associated with processing the case must also be credited to that office.
The assisted HO must print and forward to the assisting HO, copies of frequently needed professional qualifications statements.
Once the assignment of non-service area cases to ALJs is arranged, the assisted HO must mail the cases to the assisting HO within 5 days. At the same time that the cases are mailed, the assisted HO must transmit via email a Case Processing and Management System (CPMS) list of the cases to the assisting HO. If the assisted HO is not able to mail the cases within the five-day period, the Hearing Office Director (HOD) must contact the assisting HO to advise of an expected delivery date.
It is the responsibility of the assisting HO to notify the claimants and their representatives of the case reassignment. This must be done as soon as possible after receipt of the cases in the assisting HO.
It is also the responsibility of the assisting HO to send copies of the ALJ itineraries to the contract hearing reporter and the assisted HO.
Local court requirements, to the extent consistent with SSA regulations and acquiescence policy, must be followed by visiting ALJs.
Though use of privately owned vehicles (POVs) may be the most inexpensive means of transportation, it is usually not cost-effective to use POVs to travel long distances that the visiting ALJ could reach more quickly by other means. To ensure that as much time as possible is devoted to holding hearings, determinations (by the RCALJs) as to the means of transportation must include consideration of the time spent in travel as well as transportation costs.
To prevent overtaxing the resources in the assisted HO, no more than one assisting ALJ will visit the assisted HO at one time without the consent of the HOCALJ of the assisted office. This will require coordination on the part of the assisting and assisted HOs. Generally, this restriction does not include remote hearing sites, i.e., several ALJs may travel to assist the same HO simultaneously at a remote site as long as space and contract hearing reporter services are available.
4. Remote Site Versus Local (HO) Cases
Remote Site Cases
The assisted HO is responsible for providing to the assisting HO all necessary information regarding the availability of remote site hearing space and the availability of remote sites with videoconference technology. If the hearing space is not free, the assisting HO is responsible for preparing the purchase order. The assisting HO's CAN is to be used, and the information input into that office's WebBass administrative and budget system. The assisting and assisted HOs must coordinate their efforts to enable scheduling the hearings in conjunction with the availability of the hearing space.
HOs that require extensive assistance with local cases will consider arranging for hearing space and contracting for outside hearing reporter services, which are in close proximity to the HO. (For the purpose of this policy, this type of space will be considered remote site space.)
The assisted HO must provide the assisting HO with the names and phone numbers of contract hearing reporters. It is the responsibility of the assisting HO to schedule the hearings in conjunction with the contract hearing reporters' availability and to prepare the purchase orders. Again, the assisting HO's CAN is to be used, and that information is coded into that office's WebBass administrative and budget system.
With respect to making exhibit files available for review by claimants, representatives, or expert witnesses, or providing copies directly to them, the usual practice in the assisted HO will be followed. Whatever the practice, the assisting HO will be responsible for responding to the requests and for ensuring that the file copies or files are mailed early enough to reach, or be available to, the requesters two weeks prior to the scheduled hearing. Exceptions to this policy may be made when agreeable to both assisted and assisting HOs.
Local (HO) Cases
The assisting and assisted HOs must coordinate efforts to schedule the hearings in conjunction with the availability of hearing room space and recording equipment.
The rules in I-2-1-57 B. 4. a., above, with respect to making exhibit files available for review by claimants, representatives, or expert witnesses, or providing copies directly to them, apply to local cases as well as remote site cases.
5. Continuances and Postponements
Cases that are postponed or continued will be returned to the assisted (originating) HO. However, when practicable (i.e., the assisting HO is still in a position to assist and to reschedule the cases timely, and the assisted HO still requires assistance), the HOCALJ in the assisted HO may work through his or her RO to assign the postponed or continued case to the ALJ who granted the postponement or continuance, or to another ALJ from the same HO. When only one Region is involved (i.e., both assisting and assisted HOs are in the same Region or combined Regions), the RO will be responsible for ensuring that enough cases, in addition to the postponed or continued cases, are made available by the assisted HO to constitute a full docket. When the assisting and assisted HOs are in different regions, OCALJ must coordinate the reassignment and addition of cases to the docket.
Remands on non-service area cases will be routed by the Appeals Council to the servicing HO. However, when practicable (i.e., the assisting HO is still in a position to assist and to reschedule the cases timely, and the assisted HO still requires assistance), the HOCALJ in the assisted HO may work through his or her RO to assign the remand to the visiting ALJ or another ALJ from the same office. When only one Region is involved (i.e., both assisting and assisted HOs are in the same Region or combined Regions), the RO will be responsible for ensuring that enough cases, in addition to the remand(s), are made available by the assisted HO to constitute a full docket. When the assisting and assisted offices are in different Regions, the OCALJ must coordinate the reassignment and addition of cases to the docket.
When the AC prepares a remand and notes that the servicing area was “HO-A” but a request for hearing on a subsequent application was pending in “HO-B”, the remand should be sent to “HO-B” so that the AC remand case could be consolidated with the subsequent application.