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Can ALJs issue subpoenas in disability benefits cases?

People in New Jersey who have suffered a serious injury that makes them unable to work have a few tools at their disposal to secure the aid they may need to make financial ends meet. One of these tools is an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. As we have discussed previously, however, many times these applications are denied when first reviewed by the Social Security Administration. When this occurs, applicants may end up asking for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). An ALJ, as we have touched on in the past, is technically part of the executive branch, rather than the federal judiciary. However, the Code of Federal Regulations does empower these officials to do certain things that federal judges can do, such as issue subpoenas. But what does this mean in practice?

A subpoena is an order by a court for a witness to give testimony or produce documents that are relevant to a legal action. Under section 405.332 of the federal regulations, an ALJ can issue a subpoena when the full presentation of a claim makes it reasonably necessary. It can be issued in the ALJ's own discretion, or when requested by a party. To ask for a subpoena, an applicant needs to make a written request at least 10 days before the hearing date, and needs to specify who or what needs to be subpoenaed, along with their addresses or locations, what facts the person or documents will be needed to prove, and why those facts can't be shown by use of another process besides the subpoena. If a subpoena is issued, the SSA will pay reasonable costs in the same way a federal court would.

In some SSDI cases, evidence for a disability applicant is available through medical professionals and the like who do not need to be subpoenaed. However, in other cases such as cases involving an injury, witnesses to the injury may be required. In such cases, it may be a good idea to be aware of the subpoena power and how to make use of it.

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