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Disability Chartbook Chapter 11: Federal Courts

After Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants exhaust all appeals options within the Social Security Administration (SSA), they may appeal an unfavorable decision to the federal court system. This chapter explores trends in these cases.



Chart 11.1: New Disability Cases Brought to Federal District Courts, by Program – Fiscal Years 1993 to 2016

Chart 11.2: Federal District Court Actions on Disability Cases – Fiscal Years 1995 to 2013

Chart 11.3: Social Security Cases Commenced and Terminated in U.S. Courts of Appeals – Fiscal Years 1997 to 2016

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Mouse over charts to see data points.



Generally, disability cases taken to federal district courts declined from 2002 through 2010, both in number and in relative terms. In 2002 there were 17,052 new DI and SSI court cases, which represented 6.2 percent of all new civil cases. In 2010 there were 13,229, representing only 4.7 percent of all new civil cases. After 2010, the number of disability court cases increased again, but has since leveled out. In 2016, there were 17,767 new DI and SSI court cases (6.1 percent of all new civil cases).



Since 1995, federal courts have reversed relatively few agency decisions. The reversal rate was 6 percent or higher from 1995 through 2002, but since then it has dropped to less than 3 percent in 2011 to 2013. Of the remaining cases, the courts affirm about half of SSA’s decisions, and remand the other half back to the agency. A large percentage of cases remanded are subsequently allowed by SSA. Figures shown here include all Social Security program litigation, of which disability cases account for about 95 percent.


The number of Social Security cases appealed to the U.S. Courts of Appeals has varied somewhat over the years shown, but has not exceeded 2 percent of all cases taken to those courts. Commenced cases are those that are filed, while terminated cases are those that are actually decided.