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Supreme Court Says There's No Right to Vocational Expert Data

In a case closely watched by disability attorneys, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that vocational experts testifying at disability hearings do not have to turn over data related to their testimony.

Disability hearings usually conclude with the administrative law judge asking a vocational expert several hypothetical questions about whether an individual with the claimant's limitations could perform their past work or other jobs available in the national economy.

If no such jobs exist, the judge should find that the claimant is disabled.

In the case of Biestek v. Berryhill, a vocational expert testified that Biestek could perform two jobs that existed in the national economy. Biestek's attorney asked for the underlying data about these jobs, but the vocational expert said it consisted of some confidential information and refused to provide it.

The judge sided with the vocational expert, and denied Biestek's claim for disability benefits.

Biestek argued for a per se rule for vocational experts to provide data backing up their opinions upon request.

Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Elena Kagan said that refusal to release data alone does not undermine the opinion of the vocational expert.

But while the Court didn't side with Biestek, Kagan also wrote that in certain circumstances where there are other issues with a vocational expert's testimony, it could be enough to overturn an administrative law judge's decision.

Essentially, whether a vocational expert's testimony has to be backed by sufficient data is going to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

So while attorneys can request that data, the vocational expert doesn't necessarily have to provide it, and a lack of evidence could still be a key argument for an appeal.

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