Declines Seen in Social Security Disability Benefit Lawsuits

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during February 2015 there were 694 new Social Security SSID Title XVI lawsuits filed in district court. Title XVI of the Social Security Act provides for disability as well as other benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. All of these 694 suits were filed by individuals suing the federal government seeking review of the denial of these benefits.

While there is some month-to-month variation in filings, disability lawsuits have mainly been falling for the past nine months. According to case-by-case court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, these recent declines mark a clear change from previous trends. In June 2012, TRAC reported that a 62.6 percent rise had occurred over the previous five years. This upward trend in SSID Title XVI lawsuits continued until August 2013, at which point these disability lawsuits had peaked at 1,048 cases filed. The count of 694 lawsuits during February 2015 represents a 33.8 percent decline from this peak.

The long term trend in SSID Title XVI civil filings going back to February 2008 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of civil filings of this type recorded each month.

Timeline of Social Security Civil Filings

Figure 1. Social Security Civil Filings

Top Ranked Judicial Districts in Fiscal Year 2015

Table 1. Social Security SSID Benefits Lawsuits
FY 2015 (October 2014 — February 2015)
District Percapita* Count Rank
United States 12.1 3,807 -
Top 10 Districts, Relative to Population
Okla, E 81.7 61 1
Ark, W 70.0 92 2
Okla, N 57.3 59 3
Wash, E 57.0 87 4
Wash, W 36.5 196 5
Ark, E 36.1 59 6
Ala, N 34.9 99 7
Ala, S 30.0 25 8
Penn, M 27.7 88 9
Ken, E 27.1 59 10
Bottom 10 Districts, Relative to Population
S Dakota 3.6 3 81
Ill, N 3.5 33 82
Virg, E 3.3 20 83
Texas, S 3.0 27 84
Texas, W 3.0 20 84
Minnesota 2.6 14 86
Hawaii 1.4 2 87
Nebraska 0.5 1 88
N Dakota 0.0 0 89
Wyoming 0.0 0 89
*Lawsuits filed per million population

During the first five months of fiscal year 2015 a total of 3,807 SSID Title XVI suits have been filed in federal district courts throughout the country. Relative to population, this total translates into an average of 12.1 suits per million individuals so far this year.

Understandably, there is great variation in the number of these lawsuits among the ninety federal judicial districts within the country's fifty states. Table 1 shows the ten districts with the most lawsuits and the ten districts with the fewest lawsuits so far this fiscal year, relative to each district's population size.

The count of 61 actual filings in the Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee) means that in relation to its population, this district was the busiest in the nation, with over six times the national average of such lawsuits per person. Second was the Western District of Arkansas (Fort Smith) which recorded a total of 92 SSID Title XVI lawsuits during the same period, over five times the national rate relative to its population. The Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa) came in third, with nearly five times the national rate of SSID Title XVI suits filed relative to its population.

At the other extreme was North Dakota (Fargo) and Wyoming (Cheyenne) where no SSID Title XVI suits were filed, followed by Nebraska (Omaha) where only a single lawsuit occurred — 23 fewer than one would expect if its filing rate were at the national average.

If the number of lawsuits filed is considered without adjusting for population size, the list is topped by the Central District of California (Los Angeles) with 233 suits, followed by the Western District of Washington (Seattle) with 196 suits. The Middle District of Florida (Tampa) is third with 180 SSID Title XVI lawsuits filed so far this year.

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.