I-2-1-55.Assignment of Service Area Cases to Administrative Law Judges

Last Update: 4/9/19 (Transmittal I-2-223)

When the hearing office (HO) receives a valid request for hearing (RH) or an Appeals Council (AC) remand and completes the procedures set forth in the Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual chapter I-2-0, the Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge (HOCALJ), acting as the Deputy Commissioner's “delegate,” will assign the case to an administrative law judge (ALJ).

A. Case Assignment

The HOCALJ generally assigns cases to ALJs on a rotational basis, with the earliest (i.e., oldest) RHs receiving priority, unless there is a special situation that requires a change in the order in which a case is assigned. See subsection D below.

B. HO and Remote Hearing Sites

The Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge (RCALJ) determines whether the areas within an HO's service area are assigned to the HO or to the remote hearing site(s). In making such determinations, the RCALJ considers recommendations from the HOCALJ. Such areas may require modification periodically based on case receipts and other service and cost factors.

C. Case Assignments Requiring Travel Within the Hearing Office Service Area

1. Rotate Assignments

Generally, the HOCALJ will rotate the assignments requiring travel among all ALJs in the HO consistent with the objective of scheduling older cases first.

2. Travel Dockets

ALJs will generally accumulate a docket of cases to be heard at the remote site to minimize administrative travel and related costs. However, if video teleconferencing (VTC) is available, ALJs are encouraged to hold hearings by VTC at the home office instead of traveling to the remote site because VTC does not require the ALJ to accumulate a docket of cases required for travel dockets.

3. Advance Administrative Approval for Travel

An ALJ must obtain advance administrative approval of proposed travel. The procedure for securing approval will vary from region to region, depending upon the specific methods prescribed by the RCALJ.

4. Objections to Travel Dockets

An ALJ will raise any objections to a travel docket with his or her HOCALJ.

D. Special Situations That Require a Change in the Order in Which Cases Are Assigned

1. Critical Case Designation

Critical cases involve a “critical” situation, including Terminal Illness, Veteran 100% Permanent and Total disability compensation rating, Military Casualty/Wounded Warrior, and Compassionate Allowance situations. Flag and assign the case immediately. See HALLEX I-2-1-40.

2. Time-limited Court Remand Case

In a time-limited court remand case, a court has ordered the Commissioner to complete one or more specific actions within a set time-period. Flag and assign the case immediately.

A time-limited court remand case reaches the ALJ via the AC. AC remands, including those generated by the courts, are generally assigned to the same ALJ who issued the decision or dismissal, unless the AC or court specifically directs otherwise, or the ALJ is no longer with the agency.

3. Section 8001 Cases

In 8001 cases, the AC has assumed jurisdiction on its own motion of an ALJ's favorable disability decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. If certain time frames are not (or have not been) met, the Social Security Administration must pay interim benefits to the claimant until the proceedings on remand have been completed. Flag and assign the case immediately. For more information on interim disability benefits in cases of delayed final decisions, see HALLEX I-3-6-40.

4. Delayed Court Remand Case

A delayed court remand case is over 125 days old (counting from the date of the court's order) or a court remand that the AC remanded to an ALJ a second time. Flag and assign the case immediately. If the AC remanded a second time, assign to a different ALJ.

5. Other Court Remand Case

Flag and assign the case immediately. If the AC remanded a second time, assign to a different ALJ.

6. Non-Court AC Remand

Flag and assign the case immediately. AC remands are assigned to the same ALJ who issued the decision or dismissal unless:

  • the case was previously assigned to that ALJ on a prior remand from the AC and the ALJ's decision or dismissal after remand is the subject of the new AC remand; or

  • the AC directs that the case be assigned to a different ALJ.

NOTE:

AC remands for decisions or dismissals issued by National Hearing Center (NHC) ALJs are sent to the HO servicing the claimant's current address. If the NHC is still providing assistance to the HO and the NHC ALJ is currently on duty in the same NHC, the case may be assigned to the NHC ALJ unless the claimant has filed a timely objection to appearing at the hearing by VTC. See HALLEX I-2-0-21.

7. Title XVI Nondisability Case

Assign the case immediately as the hearing decision must be issued within 90 days from the date of the RH.

8. Disability Cessation and Age 18 Redetermination Case

Assign the case immediately to avoid or minimize overpayments.

9. Case That Appears to Meet the Criteria for Dismissal

Assign the case immediately as the ALJ may be able to issue a dismissal order quickly. See HALLEX I-2-4.

10. Case in Which the Claimant Has Waived the Right to an Oral Hearing

Assign the case immediately as the ALJ may be able to issue a decision quickly.

NOTE:

The ALJ may determine, based on his or her examination of the record, that a hearing should be held despite the waiver. See HALLEX I-2-1-82 for additional guidance.

11. Case in Which the Claimant Has Waived the Right to Regular Advance Notice of Hearing

A claimant's waiver of the right to regular advance notice indicates that he or she does not need advance notice to prepare for the hearing and desires a hearing as soon as possible. Therefore, if the HO staff can accommodate the claimant because of a cancellation by another claimant or for any other reason, HO staff should assign the case to an ALJ and schedule a hearing as soon as possible, without the usual advance notice.

E. Exceptions to Case Rotation

1. Assignment of New Claim When Claimant Voluntarily Withdraws RH

If a claimant voluntarily asks to withdraw his or her RH after an ALJ has been assigned to the case, and the ALJ grants the claimant's request (see HALLEX I-2-4-20), except in the circumstances noted in subsection F, the same ALJ will generally be assigned if the claimant later submits a RH on a new application.

NOTE:

If the previous ALJ has transferred to another office or is otherwise unavailable (see HALLEX I-2-8-40), the case may be assigned to a different ALJ. However, a change in the claimant's address will not necessarily necessitate a change in the assigned ALJ. See HALLEX I-2-0-70 and I-2-3-10.

Check the Case Processing and Management System (CPMS) entry for the case to confirm that the prior dismissal was based on the claimant's voluntary withdrawal of his or her RH. The status field should display the “WDDI” withdrawal dismissal code. Check the decision maker field for the name of the ALJ who issued that dismissal.

2. Assignment of Case When Claimant Withdraws Application

If an ALJ has been assigned to a case and the claimant withdraws his or her application, the same ALJ will be assigned if the claimant submits a RH on a new application.

F. Reassignment of a Case Before the ALJ Hearing

A HOCALJ or other management ALJ may reassign a case to a different ALJ when it is necessary to ensure that the claimant will have his or her case heard or decided in a timely manner.

1. Reassignment of a Case Before the ALJ Hearing

When a hearing has not yet been held, discretion to reassign the case is with the HOCALJ or other management ALJ. Examples of when reassignment may be necessary before the ALJ hearing include:

  • The ALJ who was assigned the case initially is not available to conduct the hearing because of death, retirement, resignation, illness, or other cause resulting in prolonged absence of 20 or more days; or

  • The ALJ who was assigned the case is unavailable on short notice to conduct the hearing.

2. Reassignment of a Case After a Hearing Has Been Held

The Office of Hearings Operations has a responsibility to provide for the prompt and orderly dispatch of public service.

When an ALJ has held a hearing but has not approved a draft decision, the HOCALJ or other management ALJ may reassign the case with concurrence of the RCALJ or Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge (OCALJ). When considering whether to reassign a case after a hearing has been held, the HOCALJ or other management ALJ will consider whether the delay in issuing a decision constitutes a detriment to the public. An example of when a delay constitutes a detriment to the public is when the case is seriously delinquent and previous attempts to assist the ALJ with issuing a decision have been unsuccessful.

NOTE:

The HOCALJ or other management ALJ may also determine that a reassignment and case transfer are appropriate if the claimant changes residence while the request for hearing is pending. See HALLEX I-2-3-11.

When the HOCALJ or other management ALJ reassigns a case to a different ALJ after a hearing has been held, the ALJ to whom the case is reassigned will review all the evidence of record, including the audio recording of the hearing (see HALLEX I-2-6-40 for more information about hearing recordings).

If the reassigned ALJ intends to issue a fully favorable decision after reviewing the record and audio recording, the ALJ need not conduct another hearing. However, if the ALJ is unable to issue a fully favorable decision based on the information before him or her, or the ALJ requires more information to make a decision, the ALJ will assess whether another hearing is necessary. The ALJ may find another hearing is necessary if, for example, relevant expert evidence is needed but was not obtained at the hearing, or the ALJ needs additional testimony to fully evaluate a claimant's allegations of pain and other symptoms.

If the ALJ holds a new hearing, the ALJ will consider all pertinent documentary evidence admitted into the record at the prior hearing, the oral testimony at the prior hearing, and the evidence and testimony adduced at the new hearing when making a decision.