In 1990, the Social Security Administration (SSA) published final regulations in the
Federal Register regarding its acquiescence policy. These rules reflected a policy
first adopted by SSA in 1985. These regulations explained that upon receipt of a circuit
court decision, SSA determines whether the court’s holding (specific legal principle(s)
to be drawn from the opinion which was essential to the resolution of the case) conflicts
with SSA’s interpretation of the Social Security Act or its regulations.
If SSA determines that the holding conflicts with SSA’s interpretation of the Social
Security Act or SSA’s regulations and SSA does not seek further judicial review or
has been unsuccessful in seeking further review, it will issue an acquiescence ruling
(AR). The AR will explain the court’s holding, and contain a statement of how the
court’s decision differs from SSA policy and how SSA adjudicators are to apply the
court’s holding, instead of SSA’s nationwide policy, when deciding claims within the
applicable circuit. These regulations also explained how individuals whose claims
were adjudicated between the date of the court decision and the issuance of the AR
could ask to have their case readjudicated based on the AR.
In May 1998, these regulations were revised. The new regulations provided two major
changes. First, they established a 120-day time frame (from the date SSA receives
the court decision) for SSA to release an AR to the Federal Register for publication.
Previously there was no timeframe. Second, while SSA is determining whether an AR
is needed (during the 120-day timeframe), the regulations established a process for
adjudicators to identify and code cases within States covered by the applicable circuit
court that possibly could be affected by the issuance of an AR. If an AR is published,
we send the notice contained in GN 03501.047 (Exhibit 2) to the individuals whose cases possibly could be affected by the AR.
The notice explains what an individual needs to do to request a “readjudication” to
have the AR applied to his or her case. Previously, individuals had the right to request
readjudication but there were no procedures in place to provide personal notice of
this right to individuals possibly affected by the AR.