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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 2)

California District Court reverses ALJ

March 21, 2017.  Here, a claimant of advanced age changed age categories to an individual closely approaching retirement age.  The ALJ found that she was capable of performing her past relevant light work as customer service representative, despite finding that she could only walk or stand two hours a day (exceeding “light” work requirements).  The ALJ also found that she could perform other jobs involving sedentary work, without vocational testimony that her skills would transfer with “very little, if any, vocational adjustment”.  We argued that this was error, and the district court agreed, holding that the ALJ’s decision was void of any findings with regard to transferability of skills, given Plaintiff’s age, and remanded for further proceedings.

Mississippi District Court Reverses ALJ

February 14, 2017.  Here, a claimant just 54 days shy of his 55th birthday was denied benefits.  The district court found the ALJ erred when he failed to consider the “borderline” age situation that existed, because at 55, with the ALJ’s RFC finding that the claimant could perform “light” work, the claimant’s work history, and education, a finding of “disabled” would be required by law, however, a 54-year-old with the exact same situation would be considered “not disabled”.  The district court further remarked that there was nothing in the ALJ’s decision to even indicate he recognized that a borderline age situation may exist, and that the ALJ was required to consider the claimant’s age at the time of his decision.

New York District Court Remands

January 13, 2017.  In this case, a claimant with severe mental impairments was denied benefits after the ALJ rejected the opinions of the claimant’s treating physicians in favor of non-acceptable medical sources, citing that the treating physicians submitted “fill in a blank” and “check the box” opinions and did not provide enough information.  The district court disagreed with this reasoning, finding it “odd” as the Commissioner frequently utilized these form opinions for their own physicians and ALJs often relied upon them in denying benefits; it further held that if the ALJ was left with questions regarding these opinions, he had the “heightened duty” to further develop the record and find out more information, especially considering this was a case involving psychiatric impairments.  The district court reversed the ALJ’s decision and remanded for further proceedings.

Georgia District Court Reverses ALJ

January 6, 2017.  In this case, a claimant with severe degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and obesity was denied benefits, finding she could perform work that required her to lift up to 50 pounds.  We successfully argued that the ALJ improperly discredited the claimant’s complaints of pain based on her activities of daily living; the district court further found that the ALJ failing to cite a particular activity that allowed her to lift up to 50 pounds when he used her activities of daily living to show that she could perform this type of work.  The district court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado District Court Reverses ALJ.

October 14, 2016.  Here, a claimant required a service dog to assist him with a head injury, anxiety, and depression.  The ALJ failed to address the claimant’s need for his service dog at work and denied benefits.  The district court held that the ALJ’s failure to include the service dog in his RFC finding, or at least inquire about its impact on the number of jobs available when questioning the vocational expert, was error that required remand.

Alaska District Court Reverses ALJ

October 14, 2016.  The claimant in this case suffered from chronic pain, arthritis, fatigue, and depression.  His treating physician offered a “poor, ultimately crippling” prognosis, opining that the claimant could perform less than a full range of light work, however, the ALJ rejected this opinion and further, discredited the claimant’s complaints because of his lack of consistent treatment.  We argued that the denial of benefits in this case was erroneous, in part, because the claimant’s lack of treatment was explained by his lack of insurance and financial resources.  The district court agreed, finding that the ALJ had a duty to question the claimant about his sporadic medical care or request a medical evaluation prior to making a denial based on insufficient evidence.

Pennsylvania District Court Reverses ALJ

September 29, 2016.  In this case, a claimant with severe mental impairments (in addition to severe neck and shoulder impairments) was denied benefits.  Part of her treatment record included participation in a long-term partial hospitalization program, yet the ALJ did not sufficiently address this in his decision.  We argued that his failure to do so resulted in a denial that was not supported by substantial evidence.  The district court agreed, holding that this error left questions as to whether the ALJ considered the severity of the claimant’s mental health impairments or even if the claimant was able to work while participating in this program.

Massachusetts District Court Reverses ALJ

September 29, 2016.  Here, the ALJ found that the claimant was capable of walking and standing only 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, but limited him to jobs that, by definition, required “a good deal of walking”.  The ALJ based his denial on vocational expert testimony that there were a significant number of jobs that existed that would accommodate for the claimant’s limitation to standing and walking only 2 hours a day, but did not provide any basis to support his reasoning.  The district court found that there were “substantial questions” about the accuracy and reliability of the vocational expert’s testimony and methodology.  It reversed the ALJ’s decision, holding that without clarity as to the methodology used to come with the jobs provided, it was unable to find that the ALJ’s decision was based on substantial evidence.

Michigan District Court Reverses ALJ

September 29, 2016.  The ALJ denied benefits to a claimant with degenerative disc disease, among other impairments, after rejecting the opinion of her primary care physician.  The district court found that the ALJ erred by substituting her own lay opinion for that of the claimant’s physician, whose opinion was based on his own abnormal clinical findings, the claimant’s statements of disabling pain, and x-rays, and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado District Court Reverses ALJ

September 28, 2016.  In this case, a claimant with severe migraines was denied benefits, in part because the ALJ characterized her migraines as “severe headaches” when conducting his listing analysis.  We successfully argued that the difference between the two impairments was not minimal, and in fact, could have been outcome determinative due to the severe symptoms associated with the claimant’s migraines.  The district court reversed, holding that without providing a discussion as to why the ALJ found she had migraines in one step of his analysis, but severe headaches in another left the court “beyond meaningful judicial review”.