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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 10)

Pennsylvania District Court Reverses ALJ

March 30, 2015. In one of our own cases the court agreed that the ALJ had failed to give adequate consideration to over 600 pages of evidence establishing her mental health limitations (which the ALJ had addressed in only several paragraphs of discussion). Moreover, evidence given great weight by the ALJ (SSA’s examining and nonexamining consultants) established concentration persistence and pace; reading, writing and math; and social limitations not fairly accounted for by the ALJ’s mental RFC for “simple, routine” work. The court also agreed that the ALJ’s frequent references to the “stability” of the claimant’s mental health impairments did not address whether those impairments were, in fact, more disabling than was described in the RFC finding.

Florida District Court Reverses ALJ

March 27, 2015. In this case, referred by a non-attorney representative firm, we successfully argued that the ALJ improperly excluded any discussion of detailed office records which explicitly, on dozens of occasions, commented explicitly on the degree of limitation experienced by the claimant in social, ADLs, and work capacity. Since these assessments weren’t exactly the same on every visit, we were able to argue that the ALJ had also failed, pursuant to SSR 96-8p, to consider claimant’s case in light of her highly variable functioning. The court also agreed with us that the ALJ erred when he gave “great weight” to SSA’s consultative examiner’s assessment, but failed to include all of the mental limitations identified in the assessment in the RFC finding.

Minnesota District Court Reverses ALJ

March 20, 2015. In this case, which we handled for another office, the government moved voluntarily to remand the case after our brief was filed. We alleged that the ALJ erred as a matter of law when he failed to consider the fact that the claimant was only four months short of his 55th birthday under the “borderline age situation” rule; noteworthy in this case is that we were able to show that there were significant “vocational adversities” that justified consideration of the borderline age rule. Moreover, we argued that the ALJs mental RFC finding was deficient as a matter of law since it failed to adequately assess the opinions of SSA’s own examining and nonexamining physicians.

Pennsylvania District Court Reverses ALJ

March 19, 2015. In this case, one of our own, we argued successfully that the ALJ did not fulfill his duty to an unrepresented claimant (obviously, this claimant came to us after the ALJ denied her) to assist her in the presentation of her case. Specifically, although the waiver of representation appeared to be adequate, there was at best confusion about the fact that it was acknowledged at the hearing that claimant’s treating medical sources had not provided up-to-date information; it was possible from the record alone to assume that the ALJ had promised to obtain these records but, in any event, the fact that that was not clear was a violation of the duty in and of itself. As we do in any unrepresented claimant appeal that we can, we had demonstrated in a second argument that the claimant had significant limitations of her ability to work even based on the limited record that the ALJ had before him.

Oklahoma District Court Reverses ALJ

March 19, 2015. This case was referred by a non-attorney representative from Oklahoma. The court remanded on the basis of a constellation of problems with the ALJs decision, which centered around her evaluation of plaintiff’s mental impairments. First, despite the favorable opinion issued by SSA’s examining psychologist, the ALJ never indicated what weight this opinion carried in her mind, and she did not explicitly reject any limitations set forth in that opinion. Second, although plaintiff’s treating sources were “non-acceptable sources”, the ALJ improperly rejected their opinions on the basis of their status as non-acceptable sources alone. Moreover, the ALJs mental RFC for “simple work in and habituated and object oriented work setting” was in sufficiently specific to account for her own findings that the claimant had moderate deficiencies in social functioning and in concentration, persistence and/or pace.

Florida court reverses ALJ

March 6, 2015. This case, referred by a nonattorney representative firm in Florida was remanded today on the basis that the ALJ’s mental RFC for “simple work” was found to be insufficiently descriptive in light of assessments provided by the claimant’s treating psychologist and SSA’s examining psychologist. Of note is the fact that the nonattorney representative had been unable to obtain treatment records from the psychologist, based upon her failure to provide them; the ALJ was informed of this fact and ignored the claimant’s request that he subpoena these records. This failure was found to be particularly egregious where, as here, the ALJ then relied upon the lack of the psychologist records as one of his rationales for giving little weight to that opinion.

California district court reverses ALJ

March 6, 2015. In this case referred by another office, the claimant was denied on the basis of ability to perform “past relevant work” as a hand packer. However, review of the claimant’s work history and earnings record revealed that this job had not been performed at SGA levels, and since the ALJ had failed to make alternate step 5 findings (and was unable to perform other work he had done in the past, as per the ALJs own findings), remand was needed to force a step 5 inquiry. Plaintiff also argued that the claimant’s need for a cane was improperly ignored by the ALJ, given the reaching and handling requirements of all of his past jobs. The court took up the first issue without reaching the second, and found that at best it was unclear whether plaintiff had worked in the past as a hand packer, and remanded on that basis.

Iowa District Court Reverses ALJ

March 9, 2015. In this case on referral from another law office, the ALJ had found that plaintiff’s mental impairments were “severe” within the meaning of the regulations, but the RFC finding contained no mental limitation on his ability to work. Moreover, there was evidence of record strongly suggesting that the claimant needed a cane to stand/walk, which has implications for his ability to reach, handle and finger objects but the ALJ relied upon vocational testimony naming jobs which require frequent reaching and handling and fingering. The court remanded primarily on the basis of the mental impairment argument, notably declining to accept several explanations for the ALJ’s errors which did not appear in the decision itself, in violation of the “Chenery Rule”.

Michigan District Court Reverses ALJ

In this case, referred by another attorney, the magistrate judge had recommended a ruling against us, but we were able to convince the District Court not to adopt the recommendation. This rarely happens, but it happened again to me for the fourth time this year. Essentially, the bottom line issue in this case was that the evidence supported mental limitations which the ALJ did not adopt, or adequately explain their rejection. The problem in this case was that, for whatever reason, the claimant was not in mental health treatment, but her very long time PCP had been prescribing medications and made observations at least sufficient enough to establish step 2 severity and, therefore, mental limitations. The District Court overruled the magistrate judge on the basis that the MJ had conflated the step 2 analysis with the step 4 analysis, and remanded for reconsideration of the claimant’s mental impairments.

Iowa District Court Reverses ALJ

In this case referred by another attorney, the claimant absolutely had a serious DAA problem with numerous relapses, some elements of noncompliance. But, the Brueggeman Eighth Circuit decision is really the only circuit decision that explicitly requires ALJs to follow the old emergency memo and now SSR 13-2p, and so even though this claimant plainly had a serious DAA problem the ALJ erred when he failed to consider the numerous periods of time when the claimant was sober, and how the evidence in terms of mental functioning really didn’t change much during those periods. Also, the ALJ did not really use the 13-2p analysis but rather just used DAA to attack credibility. Case remanded for reconsideration under the appropriate standards.