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What to Expect for SSDI Appeals to the Federal Courts


The application and approval process for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is long and stressful for most applicants. Very few claimants are granted benefits based on the initial application, and must enter the lengthy appeals process to receive the benefits they need. Certainly, the hope is benefits are approved as early in the appeals process as possible, but sometimes, the process must be seen through to the very end before approval. The very last step available to SSDI applicants is to file a petition with the federal courts, which is the most complicated and costly phase of appeal. While an individual is permitted to handle the court case on his/her own, the services of an experienced disability insurance attorney is needed to give an applicant the best chance at approval. Given that this is the last stop in the appeals process, wanting to give up is understandable, but continuing to pursue approval is worthwhile. Recent research shows that seven percent of cases in federal courts are related to Social Security disability, and much of that number is due to overloaded administrative law judges (ALJ) that do not have the time or resources to adequately evaluate claims. An overview of the procedure for appealing an SSDI claim to the federal courts, and how judges handle these cases, will follow below.

Time Limit to File a Complaint

Just as with other steps in the appeals process, the window to continue an appeal to the federal courts is very short. Once a claimant receives a denial of benefits from the Appeals Council, which is almost certain as only a very small percentage of applicants succeed at this stage, he/she has 60 days to file a complaint with the federal court. If this deadline is missed, the denial of benefits becomes final, and the claimant will have to file a brand-new application, and start the process over from the beginning. Most applications take years to reach this stage, so needing to start over would put most claimants at a severe disadvantage.

What to Submit to the Court

A written complaint must be filed with the appropriate federal court, which is determined by the geographic location of the claimant. The Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot be sued directly. Instead, the current SSA commissioner must be named as the opposing party. The SSA is not permitted to assist claimants with the complaint, so the responsibility to correctly follow the law and court rules falls on the claimant or on his/her attorney.

No evidence or testimony may be presented to the judge for consideration in these cases. The only material a judge reviews when making a decision are briefs (written arguments) filed with the court. These briefs attempt to convince the judge that the medical evidence provided was sufficient to justify an award of SSDI benefits, and the SSA failed to correctly evaluate the evidence and/or was not in line with the law. Additionally, the judge may schedule oral arguments to further understand the legal points of the case.


A judge has three possible options when issuing a decision in an SSDI case:

  • send the case back to the ALJ for further consideration. This is a fairly common outcome, and the ALJ usually approves benefits at this point to avoid being overturned by a federal court in a future appeal;
  • uphold the ALJ’s denial of benefits. Claimants do have the option of appealing to the Federal Circuit Court, this process is even more complicated and expensive; or
  • award disability benefits.

Talk to Disability Insurance Attorney

Filing for SSDI benefits is a convoluted process that can easily overwhelm applicants. An experienced disability insurance attorney can take away some of the stress associated with this process by handling the procedural aspects and explaining what to expect at each stage. Farrell Disability Law understands how important these benefits are, and will fight to get you the money you deserve. If you live in Florida or South Georgia, contact the office today for a free consultation.




Farrell Disability Law is located in Jacksonville, FL and serves clients throughout Florida, including Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville, Atlantic Beach, Orange Park, Doctors Inlet, Neptune Beach, Callahan, Bryceville, Middleburg, Fernandina Beach, Clay County, Duval County and Nassau County.


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Jacksonville, Florida
Phone: 904-388-8870 Primary: 904-388-8870 Fax: 904-339-9590


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Orlando, Florida 32801
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