Five-Year Decline in Social Security Disability Benefit Lawsuits

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during March 2018 there were 660 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 660 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 been generally falling since they peaked with over one thousand new filings during August 2013. The count of 660 lawsuits during March 2018 represents a 37 percent decline from that peak.

Figure 1. Number of Social Security SSID Title XVI lawsuits
filed in District Court over the last 10 years
(Click for larger image)

According to case-by-case court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, these declines during the past five years mark a clear change from the first half of this past decade when disability suits had been steadily climbing. The long term trend in SSID Title XVI civil filings for the past decade is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number filings each month. The superimposed line on the bars plots the six-month moving average so that some of the natural fluctuations are smoothed out.

Table 1. The Top Ten Districts With the Highest Rate of SSID Title XVI Lawsuits,
FY 2018 (October 2017 - March 2018)
District Number Rate*
Ark, W 119 88.3
Wash, E 118 74.5
Okla, E 42 56.1
Wash, W 217 38.0
Conn 133 37.2
Ark, E 56 34.1
R. I. 32 30.3
Oregon 123 30.0
Penn, M 95 29.9
N Mexico 59 28.4
* rate per million population.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Over the past six months (October 2017 - March 2018) a total of 4,163 disability suits have been filed. Relative to population, the volume of filings represented 12.9 per every million persons in the United States. Understandably, there is great variation in these per capita numbers across the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts.

Relative to its population, the Western District of Arkansas (Fort Smith) leads the country with nearly seven times the rate of filings than the national average. The Eastern District of Washington (Spokane) had the second highest per capita number of suits - with nearly six times the national average. In third place was the Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee) with over four times the national average.

Table 1 lists the remaining judicial districts in the top ten with the highest per capita volume of disability suits during the first half of FY 2018.

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.