I-2-1-60.Disqualification of an Administrative Law Judge Assigned to a Case

Last Update: 5/21/14 (Transmittal I-2-109)

A. General

Under 20 CFR 404.940 and 416.1440, an administrative law judge (ALJ) must disqualify or recuse himself or herself from adjudicating a case if the ALJ is prejudiced or partial with respect to any party or has any interest in the matter pending for decision.

However, disqualification is not a matter of personal preference or reluctance to handle a particular case. An ALJ must have reasonable and proper grounds for disqualifying himself or herself. For example, an ALJ may withdraw from the case if:

  • The ALJ shares an acquaintance with, but does not know, the claimant or any other party;

  • The ALJ has particular knowledge about the claimant or any other party from an extrajudicial source; or

  • The ALJ believes his or her participation in the case would give an appearance of impropriety.

NOTE:

ALJs may not submit blanket recusals on multiple cases, regardless of the reason. ALJs will make recusal decisions on a case-by-case basis and with regard to the ALJ's ability to provide a fair hearing to the claimant.

B. ALJ Voluntarily Disqualified

1. Notice Not Required

If the ALJ disqualifies himself or herself from a case on his or her own initiative, and the hearing office has not sent the notice of hearing to the claimant, the ALJ need not send notice of the disqualification to the claimant.

2. Notice Required

If the hearing office has sent the notice of hearing to the claimant and the ALJ is later disqualified, the claimant must be notified of the disqualification. This notice requirement applies regardless of whether the disqualification is before, during, or after a hearing. The ALJ is not required to provide the claimant with the specific reason(s) for the disqualification, but may voluntarily choose to do so.

a. Before the Scheduled Hearing

If the ALJ knows before the hearing of a reason for disqualification, the ALJ must disqualify himself or herself before the date of the hearing. If the ALJ disqualifies himself or herself either as a result of an objection received from a claimant, or on his or her own initiative after the notice of hearing is sent to the claimant, the ALJ must notify the claimant of the disqualification in writing, informing the claimant that:

  • The date set for the hearing has been cancelled (if cancellation is necessary); and

  • The claimant will receive an amended notice of hearing when another ALJ is assigned to conduct the hearing.

b. At the Hearing

Under some circumstances, an ALJ may not be aware of the need to disqualify himself or herself until the time of the hearing.

If the ALJ needs to disqualify himself or herself at the hearing, the ALJ's oral statement on the record is sufficient notice to the claimant. After verbal notice of disqualification, the ALJ will inform the claimant that another ALJ will be assigned to the case and the hearing will be rescheduled.

c. After the Hearing

If the reason for disqualification comes to the ALJ's attention after a hearing, the ALJ will notify the claimant of the disqualification in writing and associate the writing with the record. The writing must inform the claimant that:

  • The ALJ is disqualifying himself or herself;

  • Another ALJ will be assigned to decide the case;

  • The newly assigned ALJ will determine whether a supplemental hearing is necessary and will provide notice to the claimant if another hearing is needed; and

  • The newly assigned ALJ will issue the decision in the case.

C. Claimant Objects to ALJ Assigned to Case

If a claimant objects to the ALJ assigned to his or her case, he or she must do so at the earliest opportunity. The ALJ will consider the objection and determine whether to proceed or withdraw.

If the ALJ decides disqualification is appropriate, the procedures in Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-1-60 B above apply.

If the ALJ decides before the hearing that the claimant's reasons for objecting do not warrant disqualification, the ALJ will set forth the reasons in writing and reiterate his or her decision in the opening statement at the hearing.

If the claimant objects at the hearing, and the ALJ refuses at the hearing to disqualify himself or herself, the ALJ will set forth the reasons for his or her decision on the record during the hearing.

If the claimant objects after the hearing, and the ALJ decides that the claimant's reasons for objecting do not warrant disqualification, the ALJ will set forth the reasons for his or her decision in the jurisdiction and procedural history section of the decision.

NOTE:

If the ALJ does not withdraw and the claimant objects to the ALJ's decision, the claimant may use non-disqualification as a basis for appeal to the Appeals Council (AC). The AC will process any issues of bias or unfair treatment raised with the claimant's request for review pursuant to HALLEX I-3-3-2 and I-3-1-25. See also 20 CFR 404.970 and 416.1470, and Social Security Ruling 13-1p.

D. Special Considerations for Newly Assigned ALJ

When an ALJ is assigned to conduct a hearing in a case in which another ALJ has disqualified himself or herself, and the claimant is aware of the disqualification of the first ALJ, the newly assigned ALJ should mention the disqualification as part of the procedural history in his or her opening statement at the hearing. However, the ALJ need not discuss the reasons for the disqualification.