I-4-1-2.Commencing a Civil Action
Last Update: 6/26/23 (Transmittal I-4-92)
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 their appointed representative or on their 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.
Effective December 1, 2022, the claimant is no longer required under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) to serve a summons and complaint on the Commissioner. The FRCP now requires the court to notify the Commissioner of the commencement of the civil action.
B. Where Civil Action Is Filed
The claimant files a civil action in the Federal district court in the judicial district where they reside (or have 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., the claimant 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, denial, or dismissal 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 Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-4-9-40. If the case involves a final decision after a court remand, see HALLEX I-4-8-5.
In the 7th Circuit, the AC follows Acquiescence Ruling (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 administrative law judge's (ALJ) dismissal order finding no good cause for a late hearing request. The claimant must reside in a State within the 7th Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin) at the time the AC denies review of the ALJ's dismissal order. In these cases, the AC will prepare a limited certified administrative record (CAR); see HALLEX I-4-2-10 E and I-4-2-40.
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., one 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.
If the civil action was timely filed but was filed in the wrong jurisdiction (e.g., State court, the wrong Federal court jurisdiction, etc.), the civil action is deemed timely filed.
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 case involves a final decisions after a court remand, see HALLEX I-4-8-5.
If the deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday, Federal holiday, or other non-workday, 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 the complaint as having been 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 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 may, in most jurisdictions, file as the answer the 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., the court reviews whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence).