Facts of the Case
Petitioner Michael Biestek, a former construction worker, applied for social security disability benefits, claiming he could no longer work due to physical and mental disabilities. The Social Security Administration (SSA) assigned an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to conduct a hearing, at which the ALJ had to determine whether Biestek could successfully transition to less physically demanding work. For guidance on that issue, the ALJ heard testimony from a vocational expert regarding the types of jobs Biestek could still perform and the number of such jobs that existed in the national economy. On cross-examination, Biestek’s attorney asked the expert “where [she was] getting [her numbers] from,” and the expert explained they were from her own individual labor market surveys. Biestek’s attorney then requested that the expert turn over the surveys. The expert declined. The ALJ ultimately denied Biestek benefits, basing his conclusion on the expert’s testimony about the number of jobs available to him. Biestek sought review in federal court, where an ALJ’s factual findings are “conclusive” if supported by “substantial evidence,”. The District Court rejected Biestek’s argument that the expert’s testimony could not possibly constitute substantial evidence because she had declined to produce her supporting data. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
“A vocational expert’s refusal to provide the underlying private data during a Social Security disability benefits hearing does not categorically preclude the testimony from counting as “substantial evidence” in federal court. In a 6–3 opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the Court held that whether testimony amounts to “substantial evidence” requires a