Forney v. Apfel

LOCATION: The White House

DOCKET NO.: 97-5737
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 266 (1998)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1998

Allen R. Snyder - As amicus curiae by invitation of the Court in support of the judgment below
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -
Lisa S. Blatt - On behalf of the respondent in support of the petitioner
Ralph Wilborn - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Sandra K. Forney applied for Social Security disability benefits. A Social Security Judge determined Forney was minimally disabled, but that she was not disabled enough to qualify for benefits. Consequently she was denied her disability claim. The Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied Forney's request for review. Forney then sought judicial review in federal District Court. The District Court found that the final determination was inadequately supported by the evidence and remanded the case to the agency for further proceedings. Forney appealed the remand order to the Court of Appeals. She contended that the agency's denial of benefits should be reversed outright. The Court of Appeals did not hear her claim, however, for it decided that Forney did not have the legal right to appeal.


Can a Social Security disability claimant seeking court reversal of an agency decision denying benefits appeal a district court order remanding the case to the agency for further proceeding?

Media for Forney v. Apfel

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1998 in Forney v. Apfel

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 97-5737, Sandra Forney v. Kenneth Apfel.

Mr. Wilborn.

Ralph Wilborn:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case raises the issue of whether or not a Social Security benefits claimant may appeal a final judgment entered under the fourth sentence of 42 U.S. Code 405(g) when that final judgment is accompanied by an order of remand.

Now, in Finkelstein, which is cited in the briefs, this Court held that such a judgment is a final judgment which terminates the civil action, and that the agency, not the claimant, may appeal therefrom.

In fact, in a footnote in Finkelstein this Court expressly reserved addressing whether or not the claimant had the right to appeal from such a judgment.

This case squarely presents that issue.

Apart from Finkelstein, in Schaefer, also cited in the briefs, this Court construed, in the context of an Equal Access to Justice Act claim, the same statute without qualifying it in terms of whether the petitioner... the judgment was final for the Social Security Administration only.

We believe that the plain language of the statute and the text and structure of the statute established that either party may appeal.

In fact, if you look at amicus' brief which was invited by the Court their entire argument, or all of their arguments ultimately loop back to the point or the misconception that petitioner can later appeal any aspect of the instant district court case following the remand proceedings.

In other words, they're trying to tie that into the idea that the petitioner is not aggrieved currently.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, is it your position that they could not appeal after the result of the remand?

Ralph Wilborn:

Mr. Chief Justice, yes, that is exactly my position.

I do not believe that, under the way the statute is worded that we would have, the petitioner would have the right to appeal the current civil... or the current administrative finding.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Suppose we think you're wrong about that.

Do you lose?

Suppose we think this would work in... just in the way... you have a new trial, and so you're not able to bring up... let's say you're the verdict winner.

You're not able to bring up the errors in your favor.

All the interlocutory rulings of the district court are preserved when you can't appeal them immediately.

Either... if you can't appeal them, isn't that the ordinary rule in civil procedure?

It's a question of not never, but later.

Ralph Wilborn:

Justice Ginsburg, yes, that is absolutely correct as far as ordinary civil procedure as it applies to interlocutory orders of remand.

In this case, however, the statute gives us a final judgment, and it then... sentence 8 of the statute... by the way, the statute is set out in full--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, it actually doesn't quite do that.

It says, shall be final except that it shall be appealable as normal judgments are, so you might say, well... if it hadn't been for Finkelstein, at least, you might say, well, it's final for purposes of attorney's fees.

Ralph Wilborn:


Anthony M. Kennedy:

But with reference to appeal it's subject to the same rule as any other judgment.

That's a possible interpretation of the statute.

Finkelstein runs against that.

Ralph Wilborn:

Yes, that's absolutely right, Justice Kennedy.