I-4-1-2.Commencing a Civil Action

Last Update: 6/20/16 (Transmittal I-4-52)

A. Filing a Complaint

Under sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (Act), a claimant (or other party to a hearing) has the right to file a civil action requesting judicial review “after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing.”

The claimant, either through his or her attorney or on his or her own behalf, commences a civil action by filing a complaint against the Commissioner in a Federal district court. If the claimant is indigent, the court may waive the payment of court fees for filing a complaint.


The Commissioner is the proper defendant of such an action, and will continue to be, even if there is a change in the person holding the position of Commissioner or a vacancy.

In addition to filing a complaint with the court, the claimant must notify the Commissioner by sending a copy of the summons and complaint by registered or certified mail to the Office of the General Counsel, the United States Attorney (or designee) in the judicial district where the complaint is filed, and the Attorney General of the United States. This notification process is generally referred to as “service” of the complaint. For more information, see Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-4-1-10.

B. Where Civil Action Is Filed

The claimant files a civil action in the Federal district court in the judicial district where he or she resides (or has a principal place of business). A claimant can file a civil action in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

If the claimant does not reside (or have a principal place of business) within a judicial district (e.g., resides in a foreign country), the claimant can file a civil action in the Federal district court for the District of Columbia.

C. When Civil Action Is Filed

A claimant generally has 60 days following receipt of an Appeals Council (AC) decision or denial of a request for review to file a civil action, unless the Commissioner grants additional time to file. If the case involves the expedited appeals process, see HALLEX I-4-9-40.


In the 11th Circuit, the AC follows Acquiescence Ruling (AR) 99-4(11), Bloodsworth v. Heckler. Under AR 99-4(11), the AC will notify the claimant of the right to request judicial review when the AC dismisses a request for review of an administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision. The claimant must reside in the 11th Circuit (Alabama, Florida, or Georgia) at the time of the AC dismissal of the request for review.


In the 7th Circuit, the AC follows AR 16-1(7), Boley v. Colvin. Under AR 16-1(7), the AC will notify the claimant of the right to request judicial review when the AC denies a request for review of an ALJ's dismissal order finding no good cause for a late hearing request. The claimant must reside in the 7th Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin) at the time the AC denies review of the ALJ's dismissal order.

For extension of time (EOT) requests filed before a civil action, the AC follows the instructions in HALLEX I-3-9-92. See also HALLEX I-4-1-20. Any complaint filed beyond the deadline is untimely unless the AC has granted an EOT.


The claimant need not file the actual complaint to meet the requirements of a timely filing (i.e., filed within 60 days of receipt of a final action). A timely motion to proceed in forma pauperis (i.e., without paying court fees because the person is indigent) or any other appropriate filing with the court will satisfy the timeliness requirement for filing a civil action.

1. Determining Deadline to File

The AC presumes that the claimant received the AC notice within 5 days after the date of the notice unless there is a reasonable showing to the contrary.

This means that the civil action filing deadline is generally 65 days after the date of the AC notice.


If the deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday, Federal holiday or other non-work day, the deadline is the next Federal business day.

2. Determining Date of Filing

The Commissioner considers any complaint (or other appropriate court filing) timely if the clerk of the court stamps or otherwise designates that the complaint was filed within the 60-day period. This is true even if the actual “filing date” shown on the court's docket is beyond the deadline.

When it appears the complaint was not timely filed, Office of Appellate Operations (OAO) staff will confirm the late filing through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system at http://www.pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/ and will obtain a copy of the complaint for review.


OAO staff will also check the complaint, claim(s) file, and PACER for a misplaced request for an extension of time to file a civil action. If a request is discovered, OAO staff will evaluate whether an extension of time is appropriate under HALLEX I-3-9-92 and I-4-1-20. If the request is denied, follow HALLEX I-4-3-5.

D. Response to a Complaint

In response to a complaint, the Commissioner must file an answer that includes a copy of the certified administrative record (CAR) on which the Commissioner based the final decision. For AC actions in filing an answer, see HALLEX I-4-1-12.

After the Commissioner files the CAR and the court considers the case, the court may dismiss the case, or it may affirm, modify, reverse, or remand the Commissioner's decision for further proceedings. Under section 205(g) of the Act, the court reviews the Commissioner's final decision using a substantial evidence standard (i.e., whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence). The final judgment of the Federal district court is subject to appeal by either party.