Final regulations on the application of circuit court law in the Social Security,
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was 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.
55FR 1013 (1990)
As explained in SSA's regulations at 20 CFR 404.985(b), 410.670c(b), and 416.1485(b),
if SSA makes an administrative determination or decision on a claim between the date
of a circuit court decision and the date of issuance of an AR for that decision, the
claimant, upon request is permitted to have the claim readjudicated by demonstrating
that application of the AR could change the result. Thus, as explained in the preamble
to the acquiescence regulations, a readjudication procedure is provided which allows
a claimant, whose application was adjudicated during the interim period between a
circuit court decision and the issuance of an AR for that decision, to seek immediate
application of the AR once it is issued, without the necessity of appeal. 55 FR 1013
Finally, in accordance with its regulations, SSA acquiesces only in decisions of the
Federal circuit courts, and not in decisions of Federal district courts within a circuit.
Thus, despite a district court decision which may conflict with SSA's interpretation
of the Social Security Act or regulations, SSA adjudicators will continue to apply
SSA's nationwide policy when adjudicating other claims within that district court's
jurisdiction unless the court directs otherwise such as may occur in a class action.
1 The preamble previously noted that , “Whether or not the holding of a particular circuit court decision `conflicts' with
our policy is not always clear...” 55 FR 1012 (1990).
2 As a result of P.L. 103-296, the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements
Act of 1994, which made SSA an independent agency separate from the Department of
Health and Human Services effective March 31, 1995, the responsibility for establishing
policy now resides with the Commissioner of Social Security, rather than the Secretary
of Health and Human Services.