No. Disability claimants can appeal their case to federal court without a disability lawyer. However, it is unlikely they will succeed. Federal court appeals are the most complicated and difficult level of the disability claim process. It takes much time and effort as well as thorough knowledge of disability case law and federal regulations. As a result, even many disability attorneys are unwilling to fight a disability claim in federal court.
There are other considerations that should make one pause before attempting a federal court appeal without an attorney. Unlike hearings before a Social Security disability judge or an appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council, federal court cases are “adversarial proceedings”. An adversarial proceeding is one in which two parties with opposing interests each try to persuade the judge that they are right and the other side is wrong. Most legal proceedings are adversarial, such as criminal cases, divorces, and personal injury suits.
When someone appeals a disability case to federal court they are actually suing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The Commissioner is represented by the United States Attorney’s Office and the Office of General Counsel. To appeal a case to federal court you must go up against an experienced government attorney and persuade the U.S. District Court Judge that federal case law and regulations support your position, not the Commissioner’s.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of appealing a disability case to federal court is meeting your burden of proof. The burden of proof is what you must show the court in order to win your case. In a federal court appeal for a Social Security disability claim you must show that the disability judge that heard your case acted contrary to federal regulations or case law. The Court will not reconsider all of the evidence, substituting for the ALJ. If there is substantial evidence to support what the ALJ decided and you cannot show a serious procedural violation by the ALJ, you will not be able to win your case in federal court.
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