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Res Judicata and Multiple Disability Applications: Fulfilling the Praiseworthy Intentions of the Fourth and Sixth Circuits

Posted by on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 in Notes, Volume 77, Volume 77, Number 2.

Amber Mae Otto | 77 Vand. L. Rev. 561

In the United States, the application process to receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration is often a tedious, multistep procedure. The process becomes even more complex if a claimant has filed multiple disability applications covering different time periods. In that circumstance, the question arises as to whether an administrative law judge hearing a claimant’s second application must make the same findings as the administrative law judge who heard the first application. In other words, how should res judicata function in the administrative law context when a claimant has filed for disability multiple times? Currently, circuits differ on this question. This Note proposes a solution aimed at providing uniformity and ensuring disabled people receive the benefits they need. It proposes that res judicata should not bind findings that would harm a claimant on a future application, while res judicata should bind findings that would aid a claimant on a future application unless new clear-and-convincing evidence indicates the claimant’s condition has improved. The Note then details how such a proposal is within the Social Security Administration’s authority and is consistent with Supreme Court jurisprudence on the matter.

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Amber Mae Otto