GN CHI03330.015 Guidelines for Handling Subpoenas and Court Orders

A. Introduction

SSA Field Offices (FOs) and Disability Determination Services (DDSs) are frequently served with subpoenas or court orders that request SSA, DDS employees and medical consultants to produce information concerning a specific number holder (NH) contained in the Agency's system of records (SOR). Often a subpoena may request an Agency employee provide testimony about their observations of a claimant, SSA programs or information about the claimant/NH contained in the SOR.

Subpoenas and court orders are time sensitive and must be handled expeditiously. Failure to properly handle a subpoena or court order may expose the agency employee served with the subpoena or court order to civil or criminal penalties.

This section provides guidance and instructions on how FOs and DDSs should properly handle subpoenas and court orders.

B. Definitions

1. Subpoena

A subpoena is a legal document used to formally request information and/or testimony. A subpoena is usually issued by an attorney, or by the clerk of a court at an attorney's request. A subpoena issued to an SSA FO or DDS usually directs a “custodian of documents” or a specific employee to produce records at a deposition in an attorney's office or in court, and in some cases, to provide testimony about those records. Sometimes, a subpoena will direct the employee to testify regarding general SSA program matters or the employee's knowledge or observations of a NH.

2. Court order

A court order, is a formal legal document signed by a judge. Like a subpoena, a judge, through a court order, can order SSA to produce documents and/or testimony. The number of court orders FOs/DDSs receive is very small compared with the number of subpoenas received. A subpoena signed by the clerk of a court is not a court order.

NOTE: This section does not address how to handle a summons, a document that signals the initiation of a lawsuit. If you receive a summons, follow the instructions in GN 03106.020.

3. Consent - GN 03305.003

The Privacy Act and SSA disclosure regulations requires written consent from the subject individual, parent if a minor, or their legal guardian before disclosing information about the subject individual to a third party. SSA will provide information to a third party based on an individual’s signed consent as long as the consent document meets these requirements. The criteria for release of non-tax return and tax return data are different. Refer to GN 03305.003D and GN 03305.003E.

C. Handling a subpoena or court order

Accept service of the subpoena or court order unless a specific exception applies. Subpoenas and court orders must be accepted if a recipient is not specified. This includes subpoenas and court orders directed to an unnamed person such as “Manager” or “Custodian of Records.”

  1. 1. 

    Do not accept service of a subpoena or court order addressed only to the “Social Security Administration,” the Commissioner or any Central Office official. If a subpoena or court order is directed to simply SSA, the Commissioner, or any Central Office official, do not accept service of that document. Inform the person serving the subpoena or court order that you lack authority to accept the document on behalf of the agency, the Commissioner, or another Central Office official, per GN 03330.010B.2.

  2. 2. 

    Do not accept service of a subpoena or court order addressed to another named employee. If a specific employee is named in the subpoena (e.g., “John Doe, FO manager”), and that person is not in the office at the time service is attempted, do not accept the subpoena or court order on the other person's behalf. A subpoena or court order which names a specific person can only be properly served to that person. Also, do not transfer subpoenas to other FOs or other SSA components, per GN 03330.010B.4.

  3. 3. 

    Do not waive personal service of subpoenas and court orders received in the mail. If you receive a subpoena or court order in the mail, do not sign a waiver of personal service. A valid subpoena or court order served on the agency requires personal service. This does not mean you can disregard such subpoenas; you must follow the instructions outlined below.

D. Responding to Federal Subpoenas and Court Orders

  1. 1. 

    Subpoenas with Valid Consent. No Agency Employee Testimony Requested.

    FOs and DDSs should immediately process/respond to a subpoena for production of records WHEN it is accompanied with a valid consent AND requests ONLY copies of records or states “in lieu of testimony you may submit records.”


  2. 2. 

    Subpoena - No Valid Consent or Requests Agency Employee Testimony

    FOs and DDSs SHOULD NOT process or respond to a subpoena not accompanied by a valid consent or that requests testimony. IMMEDIATELY follow the instructions in E below, complete the questionnaire and email to RO at: ||CHI ARC MOS CRSI SSI Subpoena and Certifications.

  3. 3. 

    Court Orders

    FOs and DDSs should IMMEDIATELY follow the instructions in GN CHI03330.015E, complete the questionnaire and email to the RO at: ||CHI ARC MOS CRSI SSI Subpoena and Certifications.

E. Subpoena/court order questionnaire

Follow the steps below upon receipt of any of the following:

  1. 1. 

    Subpoenas requesting the production of records without valid consent or requesting Agency employee testimony Federal or State issued court order,

  2. 2. 

    Electronically scan the subpoena or court order and all accompanying documents.

  3. 3. 

    Complete the Subpoena/Court Order Questionnaire in GN CHI03330.015E.

  4. 4. 

    Email the scanned subpoena without valid consent or court order and the completed Questionnaire to:

    ||CHI ARC MOS CRSI SSI Subpoena and Certifications

    NOTE: Due to the time sensitivity issue with processing subpoena and court orders, FO and DDS offices should only fax the subpoena and court order, as well as the questionnaire, if the office lacks the capability to scan. In such cases, the fax should be sent to (312) 575-4245, Attention: Chicago Privacy and Disclosure Coordinator.




Type of Document (i.e., subpoena, court order, letter):                         


When did you receive the request? Date: ______/ ______/ ______


What is the name of the legal matter for which records and/or testimony is requested? (i.e., Doe v. Jones):                         


Where is the case located? (i.e., Circuit Court of Cook County):                                 


What is the Requestor seeking? (i.e., records, testimony, or both):                        


About whom (Numberholder) is the Requestor seeking information?:                                    





Requestor's Name: ____________________________________


Requestor's Employer or Firm: _________________


Requestor's Address: _________________________________________



Requestor's Phone Number: (_____) ________- ___________


Requestor's Fax Number: (_____) ________- ___________


Requestor's E-mail Address: ___________________________




Person referring subpoena or court order to the Regional Office:



Title of person referring subpoena or court order:



Office Location/Code/Component: _________________________


Phone: (_____) ________- ___________

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GN CHI03330.015 - Guidelines for Handling Subpoenas and Court Orders - 10/06/2022
Batch run: 10/11/2022