Final regulations on the application of circuit court law in the Social Security,
Supplemental Security Income, and Black Lung programs were published in the Federal
Register on January 11, 1990 (55 FR 1012). SSA first adopted the acquiescence policy
set forth in these rules in 1985, with the details evolving over the next 5 years.
These rules explain how SSA acquiesces in circuit court law which conflicts with Agency
policy; it does so by issuing an Acquiescence Ruling (AR) for a final circuit court
decision which SSA determines is in conflict with the Agency's interpretation of the
Social Security Act or regulations. 20 CFR 404.985(b), 410.670(c)(b) and 416.1485(b). The AR which is issued through publication in the Federal Register, describes the
administrative case and the court decision, identifies the issue(s), explains how
the court decision differs from SSA policy, and explains how SSA will apply the court
holding, instead of its nationwide policy, when deciding claims within the applicable
circuit. ARs apply at all steps in the administrative process within the applicable
circuit unless the court decision, by its nature, applies only at certain steps in
this process. In the latter case, the AR may be so limited.
As of the effective date of this Ruling, SSA had issued a total of 62 ARs, averaging
about 3-4 ARs per year in recent years; 42 of those ARs are still in effect. The majority
of the ARs issued by SSA to date have dealt with nondisability issues, although a
significant portion have dealt directly with the disability determination process.
Decisions for which ARs are issued often involve complex and difficult issues. The
court's holding may be unclear in its scope and susceptible to differing interpretations.
Despite these difficulties, no AR has been found to be inadequate by the circuit court
which issued the underlying decision.