|Questions and Answers|
ISSUED: December 28, 1998
This Temporary Instruction provides, in question and answer format, guidance for implementing Social Security Acquiescence Ruling (AR) 97-4(9), Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691 (9th Cir. 1988). The Commissioner of Social Security published the AR in the Federal Register on December 3, 1997, and it became effective on publication.
On March 30, 1983 an Administrative Law Judge(ALJ) issued a decision awarding a claimant a closed period of disability from March 3, 1981 through May 1982. In determining that the claimant's disability had ended, the ALJ found that the claimant did not retain the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform his past work, but was able to engage in a wide range of light work. The claimant did not appeal the decision and it became final and binding. The claimant then filed a subsequent application, with a second ALJ finding in a decision issued on May 10, 1984 that the claimant retained the RFC to perform work-related activities except for work involving constant standing, walking, and lifting, and carrying more than 20 pounds. This ALJ then found that the claimant could resume his past relevant work. The second ALJ's decision made no reference to the findings of the previous ALJ decision. The claimant appealed the subsequent decision.
On April 19, 1988, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Chavez. The Ninth Circuit held that when an ALJ makes a decision on a subsequent disability claim of an individual for whom there had previously been a final decision with an ultimate finding of nondisability, there is a presumption of continuing nondisability after the period previously adjudicated. This presumption of continuing nondisability is based upon the principles of res judicata. The Ninth Circuit further found that a claimant can rebut the presumption by proving “changed circumstances indicating a greater disability.” If the claimant does rebut the presumption of continuing nondisability, the court found that the principles of res judicata also require the ALJ to adopt the findings from the prior decision, required under the sequential evaluation process, unless there is new and material evidence relating to such findings.
The court in Chavez found that the claimant's attainment of “advanced age” constituted a changed circumstance precluding the application of res judicata to the first ALJ's ultimate finding against disability. The court then concluded that the first ALJ's findings concerning the claimant's RFC, education, and work experience were entitled to some res judicata consideration in a subsequent proceeding. The Social Security Administration (SSA) did not appeal and, because the court's holding conflicts with SSA's interpretation of the Act or Regulations, SSA issued AR 97-4(9). The AR explains that SSA will apply the Chavez decision only to cases involving a subsequent claim with an unadjudicated period arising under the same title of the Act as a prior claim for which there had been a final decision of nondisability by an ALJ or the Appeals Council.
The attached questions and answers provide guidance for implementing the Chavez AR.
Hearing office personnel should direct any questions to their Regional Office. Regional Office personnel should contact the Division of Field Practices and Procedures in the Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge at (703) 605-8530. Headquarters personnel should contact the Division of Litigation Analysis and Implementation in the Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation at 605-7108.