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Grant v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

111 F. Supp. 2d 556 (2000)

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Grant v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

111 F. Supp. 2d 556 (2000)

Facts

Grant represented a class of disability claimants (plaintiffs) who sued the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (defendant) in a United States district court, alleging that their claims had been unfairly denied by Administrative-Law Judge Russell Rowell because of the ALJ’s general bias against them. ALJ Rowell denied benefits for claimants considered “no-goodniks” or those he found to be “manipulative and malingering.” If a claimant was Black, Hispanic, poor and White, a union member, obese, allegedly mentally impaired, a workers’-compensation claimant, an addict, a Department of Welfare employee, an accident victim, or a personal-injury claimant, ALJ Rowell considered the claimant a no-goodnik. While the lawsuit was pending, the administration launched an investigation in which a special panel reviewed over 200 of ALJ Rowell’s cases and concluded that there was no evidence to support the claim of general bias, despite deposition testimony from the ALJ’s former coworkers that corroborated the class’s claims by providing accounts of instances in which the ALJ even used racial slurs to refer to some of those he categorized for denial. The administration adopted the conclusion of the panel, and the class sought and was granted a remand of the decision based on the district court’s view that the class members did not receive a full and fair hearing. Another hearing was conducted in which statistical data was mined from ALJ Rowell’s denials and 84 percent of the denials that were made before the ALJ was transferred, following counseling for his conduct, were based on unlawful credibility determinations. Two more of the ALJ’s coworkers provided depositions buttressing the class’s claims; however, the second panel discounted all the deposition testimony because the panel found it to be opinion evidence, which was incapable of witness corroboration because ALJ Rowell had died. Without evidence of the ALJ’s state of mind, the panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish general bias. Grant appealed on behalf of the class.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Muir, J.)

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