I-2-1-24.Handling Information Submitted or Associated in a Claim(s) File About a Person Other Than a Party to the Hearing
Last Update: 4/11/16 (Transmittal I-2-172)
All hearing office (HO) staff and administrative law judges (ALJ) are responsible for ensuring that the evidence of record properly relates to a party to the hearing. For the definition of party to the hearing, see Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-1-45. This is necessary to ensure that the record on appeal contains only evidence actually relied on to make the decision and to avoid inadvertent disclosure of another person's personally identifiable information (PII). For the definition of PII, see HALLEX I-1-4-5.
This instruction does not address issues relating to a form SSA-1695, Identifying Information for Possible Direct Payment of Authorized Fees. For handling instructions for an SSA-1695, see HALLEX I-1-2-95.
B. Information Inadvertently Associated With the Wrong Claim(s) File
With increased use of electronic services by medical providers, including the electronic submission of evidence to the agency, HO staff must carefully review the medical evidence to ensure a medical provider did not inadvertently include medical records or other documents related to another individual when sending the claimant's medical records. Additionally, many appointed representatives are now submitting information electronically using fax machines, barcodes, the Electronic Records Express system, or by uploading evidence directly to the claim(s) file online through Appointed Representative Services. When doing so, an appointed representative may inadvertently submit or associate information with the wrong claim(s) file. HO staff must be diligent in reviewing and associating incoming information to ensure all information is associated with the correct claim(s) file.
When HO staff discovers information in the wrong claim(s) file, HO staff must immediately remove that information from the claim(s) file. If an ALJ discovers the issue, the ALJ will not sign a decision or dismissal order until he or she has verified staff has removed the information relating to the person who is not a party to the hearing from the claim(s) file.
If HO staff observes a consistent pattern of a particular appointed representative repeatedly associating information with the wrong claim(s) file, staff will report the issue to his or her immediate supervisor. It may be appropriate in some instances for the HO to contact the representative's office to inform the office of the issue and to remind the representative of the importance of not inappropriately disclosing PII or not submitting information that is unrelated to the claimant. If the HO believes the circumstances involved demonstrate the representative may have violated our rules, the HO will send a referral for possible misconduct using the procedures in HALLEX I-1-1-50.
C. Information About a Person Who Is Not a Party to the Hearing Is Intentionally Submitted
In some cases, a claimant or appointed representative may intentionally submit documents related to a person who is not a party to the hearing as support for consideration of a similar issue. For example, an appointed representative might submit information from another claim(s) file to support:
A particular finding based on a prior administrative action on the same issue (e.g., a prior remand order involving the same substantive issue);
A request for recusal by the ALJ; and/or
An alleged pattern of unfairness, prejudice, partiality, bias, misconduct, or discrimination (hereinafter “bias” allegation).
In some situations, the representative may submit information that is not from another claim(s) file, but rather, is information specifically about the ALJ, such as statistics about the ALJ's allowance rate or affidavits from representatives with observations about the ALJ. The instructions in HALLEX I-2-1-24 C.2. below also apply in those circumstances.
In all cases, the ALJ will ensure that staff associates any written arguments or objections specifically related to the case with the claim(s) file, redacting any cited PII in the writing. However, when a claimant or representative submits supporting information that contains the PII of a non-party to the hearing for one of the reasons described above, the ALJ and assisting staff will follow the applicable procedure below.
It is irrelevant whether the claimant or representative redacted the PII of a non-party from “supporting information” before submitting it to the ALJ.
1. Information Submitted in Support of a Particular Finding
If the claimant or representative submits information about another individual in support of a particular argument, allegation, or proposed finding in the case before the ALJ, the ALJ will not associate the information with the claim(s) file. Instead, the ALJ will either: (1) ensure that staff returns it to the sender; or (2) for submissions that cannot be returned easily, provide the sender with 15 days to pick up the evidence or it will be destroyed. In both situations, the ALJ will also explain in writing:
The submitted information relates solely to the case adjudication of another person whose claim is not properly before the ALJ; and
The ALJ cannot consider the information as evidence in the claim before him or her.
HO staff may use a modified version of the sample letter in HALLEX I-2-1-99 for these purposes. The ALJ will ensure that staff associates a copy of the correspondence with the claim(s) file.
If the ALJ mistakenly exhibits the information, the HO will use established procedures for removing information that is inadvertently associated with the wrong claim(s) file.
2. Information Submitted in Support of a Recusal Request or Bias Allegation
When considering a recusal request, the ALJ will follow the procedures outlined in HALLEX I-2-1-60 as the facts relate to the particular claim. When an appointed representative submits information from another claim(s) file or with another person's information, or submits other information specifically about the ALJ, for the purpose of alleging a pattern of bias by an ALJ, regardless of whether the ALJ recuses himself or herself in a particular case, the ALJ will inform the representative, in writing, that:
The information was [not added to][was removed from] the claim(s) file because it [relates solely to the adjudication of another person whose claim is not properly before the ALJ][is not relevant to adjudication of the particular case before the ALJ];
[The information is being returned][The representative has 15 days to pick up the information or it will be destroyed]; and
The representative may review Social Security Ruling 13-1p: Titles II and XVI: Agency Processes for Addressing Allegations of Unfairness, Prejudice, Partiality, Bias, Misconduct, or Discrimination by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) for more information about how the Social Security Administration handles allegations of general bias or a pattern of bias or misconduct by ALJs against a group or particular category of individuals.
For an illustrative sample, see HALLEX I-2-1-99. The ALJ will ensure that staff associates a copy of his or her writing with the record.