GN BOS03330.015 Handling of a Court Order or Subpoena
SSA Field Offices (FOs) and Disability Determination Services (DDSs) are frequently served with subpoenas or court orders that attempt to compel SSA and DDS employees and medical consultants to produce and possibly testify about information concerning a specific number holder contained in the agency’s system of records or to testify about their observations of a claimant or about SSA programs.
While some FOs rarely encounter court orders or subpoenas, they occur frequently in others. They are routine business for the Office of the General Counsel (OGC). Their staff attorneys have an excellent record of getting them vacated (canceled) or finding alternate means for providing the information requested. However, this success depends on prompt action by the office served with the subpoena or court order.
Subpoenas and court orders can be extremely time sensitive and have the potential for significant expenditure of FO resources. If improperly handled, they may expose the person served to civil or criminal penalties. Local office management must report the service of a subpoena or court order as soon as possible.
2. The difference between subpoenas and court orders
A subpoena is a legal document issued by an attorney, or by the clerk of a court at an attorney’s request, used to formally request information and/or testimony. Subpoenas issued to an SSA FO or DDS usually request production of records at a deposition in an attorney’s office or in court, and, in some cases, testimony about those records. Subpoenas may also request employee testimony regarding general SSA program matters or knowledge or observation of a particular number holder.
A court order is a formal legal document signed by a judge used to order production of documents and/or testimony. FOs and DDSs receive a small number of court orders compared with subpoenas.
B. Procedures to Follow Upon Receipt of a Subpoena or Court Order
NOTE: GN 03330.010 contains general procedures for receipt of a court order or subpoena.
Accept service of the subpoena or a court order unless one of the specific exceptions below applies. Accept subpoenas and court orders that are directed to unnamed agency employees, such as “Keeper of the Records,” “Custodian of the Records,” or “Office Manager.”
Do not accept a subpoena or other compulsory process if it is directed to the Commissioner or any central office official. Inform the person serving the subpoena or court order that you lack authority to accept it. GN 03330.010B.2. If the process server persists, please contact OGC at 617-565-4277.
Some subpoenas are addressed to a specific named employee at the FO or DDS. Only that employee may accept such a subpoena. This is not a refusal to accept because only the specific person named may be properly served.
Management should designate who in the FO may accept a subpoena (generally a member of management, if possible).
Although rare in this Region, process servers may ask employees to complete or sign a statement or form (e.g., a "waiver" of personal service, an "admission of service", etc.). Do not complete, submit, or sign any such statement or form unless explicitly instructed to do so by OGC. Such action may limit our options concerning SSA’s response to the subpoena.
If a DDS in the Region is served with a court order or subpoena, the DDS should report this directly to the Center for Disability in the Regional Office by email to ||BOS Center for Disability. Disability will coordinate with OGC and advise the DDS how to proceed.
NOTE: Do not delay reporting the subpoena to obtain complete data. The type of request, the name of the requester (i.e., the attorney) and the date for compliance are the essential elements needed to begin answering the process.
If an FO in the Region is served with a court order or subpoena, the FO should report this immediately to OGC using the instructions below.
Upon being served:
Scan and email the court order or subpoena to OGC at: ^OGC BOS Subpoenas and complete the questionnaire within the email (GN BOS03330.015C). OGC will evaluate and advise, as necessary, concerning SSA’s response to the matter.
In most cases, the FO or DDS will not need to take any further action after emailing the court order or subpoena to OGC. OGC will notify the FO or DDS if further action by that office is necessary. For example, OGC may advise the FO that a consent form submitted with a subpoena is valid and that disclosure of the records described on the consent form by the FO is appropriate. OGC, in conjunction with the Center for Programs Support (CPS), may also make the decision to disclose information after reviewing the documents submitted and the governing law. CPS is the resource for program and policy guidance regarding PA, FOIA, and IRS regulations as they apply to disclosure from SSA records.
If the folder is not in your location, do not automatically request it. Many subpoenas may be vacated or disclosure handled without the need for the folder. OGC or CPS will notify the FO if the folder is needed.
A subpoena may be accompanied by a fee. When you email the subpoena to OGC, you should also notify OGC that a fee was submitted. OGC will advise you what to do with any fee submitted.
Scan and email the court order or subpoena to ^OGC BOS Subpoenas and include the following information in your email:
Person to Whom Subpoena Issued:
Date and Time of Appearance:
Written Consent Provided?
Numberholder’s Servicing Field Office:
Field Office Contact:
You may also use the above email box for any questions that arise in processing subpoenas or court orders.