I-2-8-19.Oral Decisions on the Record (Bench Decisions)
Last Update: 11/7/16 (Transmittal I-2-194)
A. General Policy
1. Regulatory Requirements
Under 20 CFR 404.953(b) and 416.1453(b), an administrative law judge (ALJ) may enter a fully favorable oral decision based on the preponderance of the evidence into the record of the hearing proceedings, and thereafter issue a written decision that incorporates the oral decision by reference. However, the regulations also state that an ALJ may use these procedures only when:
The case was identified by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in advance as appropriate for an oral decision (see Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-8-19 A.2. below); and
No changes are required in the findings of fact or the reasons for the decision as stated at the hearing.
If a fully favorable decision is entered into the record at the hearing, the regulations require that the ALJ include as an exhibit, a document that sets forth the key data, findings of fact, and narrative rationale for the decision (see HALLEX I-2-8-19 B.2. below).
The regulations also require that if the decision incorporates by reference the findings and the reasons stated in an oral decision at the hearing, a party may submit a written request for a record of the oral decision. On request, SSA must provide the party with a copy of the oral decision (see HALLEX I-2-8-19 B.3. below).
2. When an ALJ May Issue an Oral Decision
Unless an exception below applies, ALJs may issue fully favorable oral decisions in the following cases:
An initial adult disability claim under title II, title XVI, or both titles;
A claim for disability benefits as a disabled widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse under title II; or
A claim for benefits by a child under age 18 under title XVI.
ALJs may not issue oral decisions in:
Disabled adult child claims under title II;
“Age-18 redetermination” claims under title XVI;
Continuing disability reviews;
Claims involving a closed period of disability;
Claims involving drug addiction or alcoholism issues;
Claims where there is reason to believe that fraud or similar fault was involved in providing the evidence; and
1. Prior to the Hearing
When an ALJ believes an oral decision may be appropriate, the ALJ will generate an oral decision checksheet from the Document Generation System. As needed, the ALJ may choose to complete certain portions of or the entire checksheet prior to the hearing.
2. At the Hearing
a. Announcing an Oral Decision
When announcing an oral decision into the record of a hearing, the ALJ will explain on the record that:
The claimant will receive a decision in writing;
After entering the fully favorable oral decision into the record of hearing, the ALJ's written decision will typically incorporate the oral decision by reference;
However, if any of the oral findings or reasons for the decision entered into the record at the hearing require change, or if the ALJ decides that incorporation-by-reference procedures should not be used, the ALJ will issue a written decision that sets forth the findings of fact and the reasons for the decision, including any changes in the findings and reasons stated at the hearing; and
If any contemplated changes will make the written decision less favorable than announced during the hearing, the ALJ will proffer the changes and the supporting exhibits of record to the claimant and appointed representative, if any, and provide an opportunity to comment on the possible changes. For proffer procedures, see HALLEX I-2-7-30.
b. Stating the Oral Decision
When stating the oral decision, the ALJ will clearly delineate the decision from the rest of the hearing proceedings. The ALJ must speak clearly and enunciate so that the decision is audible and understandable by the claimant or other reviewing component. The ALJ must use terms that the claimant can understand and should avoid the oral equivalent of boilerplate in the rationale.
An oral decision has three required parts:
i. Procedural History
As part of the procedural history, the ALJ will:
Explain why the case is before the ALJ for a hearing and provide other relevant background information;
Note whether the claimant is represented at the hearing and, if so, the name of the appointed representative;
Note whether an interpreter is present and identify all witnesses and experts; and
State the issue(s) to be resolved, framed as specifically as possible with appropriate reference to the applicable statute(s) and regulation(s).
ii. Findings and Rationale
The ALJ will provide findings that outline the relevant issues and explain his or her rationale for the ultimate conclusion, including the following (as applicable):
Findings on any pertinent threshold issues (e.g., insured status, age, literacy, dependency relationship);
Findings on the alleged onset date and established onset date;
Reasons for reopening any prior determination(s) or decision(s);
An assessment of the case under the sequential evaluation process, including an explanation of the findings on each issue including the ultimate conclusion;
An evaluation of the intensity and persistence of symptoms and the extent to which the symptoms limit the functional abilities of the claimant;
A discussion of the opinion evidence pursuant to applicable regulations and sub-regulatory policies;
A recitation of the following or equivalent statement if the case is decided at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process:
Although the claimant generally continues to have the burden of proving disability at step five, in order to support a finding that an individual is not disabled at this step, the Social Security Administration is responsible for demonstrating that there is other work that the claimant can do that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, given the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
The basis for finding the claimant disabled (e.g., direct or framework application of a Medical-Vocational Rule);
A statement clearly articulating the relevant testimony from an expert witness(es) if the ALJ is relying on the testimony of (or interrogatories from) a medical or vocational expert;
The ALJ's ruling(s) on any objection(s) made by the claimant and/or his or her appointed representative, if any;
A recommendation for a representative payee, if applicable;
A statement relating to medical reexamination, if recommended;
A notation if there is evidence of a workers' compensation claim or payment; and
Findings on any other issue(s) required by statute or regulation.
The ALJ must give a brief and succinct summary of his or her ultimate conclusion in the case.
c. Exhibit Checksheet
After issuing an oral decision on the record during the hearing, the ALJ will add the completed checksheet as an exhibit to the record.
If the ALJ later decides to amend the oral decision or not to use the incorporation-by-reference procedures, the ALJ must leave the completed checksheet as an exhibit in the record.
3. After the Hearing
After a hearing in which the ALJ issued an oral decision, the ALJ will usually issue a written notice of the oral decision that incorporates by reference the findings of fact and the reasons stated orally at the hearing.
However, an ALJ cannot use the incorporation-by-reference procedure if he or she determines after the hearing that any of the findings of fact or reasons for the decision entered into the record at the hearing have changed. In that situation, the ALJ will:
Proffer the changes and the supporting exhibits of record to the claimant and appointed representative, if any, if the contemplated changes make the written decision less favorable than announced during the hearing (see HALLEX I-2-7-30 for proffer procedures); and
Issue a written decision that sets forth the findings of fact and the reasons for the decision, including any changes in the findings and reasons stated at the hearing.
If a claimant or appointed representative requests a copy of the ALJ's oral decision, the hearing office will provide a compact disc of the digital recording, or, when technology permits and it is consistent with SSA disclosure rules, an electronically propagated digital recording.