Sims v. Apfel

LOCATION:US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 98-9537
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 530 US 103 (2000)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 2000
DECIDED: Jun 05, 2000

Malcolm L. Stewart – Argued the cause for the respondent
Sarah H. Bohr – Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

After a state agency denied Juatassa Sims’ application for Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits, she obtained a hearing before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ also denied Sims’ claims, concluding that, although she did have some medical impairments, she had not been and was not under a “disability.” Sims then sought review by the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied review. She next filed suit in the Federal District Court, contending that the ALJ erred in three ways by making selective use of the record, by posing defective questions to a vocational expert, and by failing to order a consultative examination. The District Court rejected her contentions. In affirming, the Court of Appeals concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over two of the contentions because they were not included in Sims’ request for review by the Appeals Council.


Is a Social Security claimant barred from federal judicial review of issues he or she failed to raise during the administrative process?

Media for Sims v. Apfel

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 28, 2000 in Sims v. Apfel

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 05, 2000 in Sims v. Apfel

The opinion of the Court, in No. 98-9537, Sims v. Apfel will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner Sims brought a claim for Social Security benefits based on certain alleged disabilities.

An administrative law judge denied her claim.

She requested review by the Social Security Appeals Council, which declined to review her claim.

Sims then brought suit in Federal District Court in Mississippi, arguing that the administrative law ludge had erred in three ways.

The District Court ruled against Sims and the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court.

In so doing, the Fifth Circuit refused to consider two of the three issues Sims had raised before the District Court, because she had not mentioned them in her request for review that she submitted to the Appeals Council.

We granted certiorari to determine whether petitioner waived the issues that she did not exhaust by not including them in her request for review.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Fifth Circuit and remand for further proceedings.

No statute or Social Security regulation requires issue exhaustion and the request for review by the council.

The Social Security Commissioner therefore urges us to impose such a requirement as a matter of judicial policy.

When we have done this previously, it was because the administrative proceeding at issue was adversarial, and thus it was the responsibility of the parties rather than the agency to develop the issues before the agency.

This reason does not apply to the Appeals Council, which is inquisitorial rather than adversarial.

The applicable regulations make clear that the Council does not depend on the claimant to develop the issues for review.

As a result, it makes little sense to require issue exhaustion in this context.

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Chief Justice, Justice Scalia and Justice Kennedy have joined.