Social security claimants' experiences appealing claims can vary considerably across U.S. district courts. Drawing from a dataset of more than 20,000 appeals, Jonah B. Gelbach (Penn.) and David Marcus (Ariz.), in A Study of Social Security Disability Litigation in the Federal Courts, find, in part, that: "District judges in Brooklyn decide these cases pursuant to one set of procedural rules and have in recent years remanded about seventy percent to the agency. Magistrate judges in Little Rock handle this docket with a different set of rules and have in recent years remanded only twenty percent." An excerpted abstract follows.
"Our report makes four contributions. The first is a thorough introduction to the process by which a disability benefits claim proceeds from initial filing to a federal judge’s chambers. This description is intended to deepen understandings of where many of federal civil cases come from, and why they raise the same sorts of concerns repeatedly.
Second, the report provides some context for understanding why the federal courts remand claims to the agency at the rate that they do. We argue that the federal courts and the agency have different institutional goals, commitments, and resources. These differences would cause a sizable number of remands even if the agency adjudicated claims successfully and the federal courts applied the appropriate standard of review. Third, we undertake extensive statistical analysis to try to understand what factors explain the sharp variation in district-level remand rates. Circuit boundaries account for some, but not all, of this disparity. After excluding a number of other potential causes, we hypothesize that district courts remand claims to the agency at different rates in part because uneven adjudication within the agency produces pools of appeals of differing quality. Finally, the report analyzes contrasting procedural rules used by different districts to govern social security litigation. We argue that these differences are unnecessary and create needless inefficiencies. We conclude with a set of recommendations to improve social security litigation within the federal courts."