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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 4)

Virginia District Court Reverses ALJ

July 1, 2016.  Here, a claimant was denied benefits after the ALJ found that her medically determinable impairments of urinary urgency and incontinence, joint pain in multiple joints, back pain, headaches, parenthesias, edema, and obesity were not considered “severe”, despite medical evidence and the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician showing otherwise.  The district court disagreed with the ALJ, finding that he failed to properly evaluate the required factors when determining that a treating source’s opinion is not entitled to controlling weight and rather, discounted the entire opinion in one conclusory sentence.  The district court summarized that the ALJ failed to build an analytical bridge to the conclusion that the claimant had no severe impairment and reversed the opinion, remanding for further proceedings.

Pennsylvania District Court Reverses ALJ

May 16, 2016.  The claimant in this case had a profound degree of deafness.  At the administrative hearing, a vocational expert testified that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) did not take into account noise requirements for the positions he provided, yet the ALJ still relied on the offered positions and denied benefits.  We successfully argued that the vocational expert did not explain that another source within the DOT did in fact address ambient noise requirements for all work positions, and the positons that the ALJ relied on far exceeded the moderate noise levels that the claimant could tolerate.  The district court held that the inconsistency between the vocational expert’s testimony and the DOT resulted in a finding that was not based on substantial evidence and required remand for further proceedings.

Alabama District Court Reverses ALJ

May 9, 2016.  Here, the claimant suffered, among other impairments, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and atrial fibrillation.  After rejecting the opinion of claimant’s primary care physician that would have limited him to a less than full range of sedentary work, the ALJ “confusingly reference[d]” that the claimant could perform both sedentary and light levels of work.  We successfully argued that the ALJ failed to “link” her RFC assessment to specific evidence in the record and the district court reversed, finding that the ALJ failed to “show her work”.  The district court went on to further demonstrate how the ALJ’s finding was deficient: “certainly, the ALJ does not mean to suggest that she can throw the baby out of the bath water and ignore the objective findings” of the claimant’s primary care physician simply because she rejected his opinion.

Washington Court Reverses ALJ

September 29, 2015. In this case, the ALJ denied benefits, in part, because he found the state agency examining psychologist’s opinions to be “too vague to be useful” when he considered the claimant to have mild and moderate limitations in terms of his activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence and pace. The district court held that the ALJ should have contacted the psychologist to clarify his opinion before rejecting it. Additionally, the district court found it troubling that the ALJ viewed the terms “mild” and “moderate” to be vague, as they are regularly used in a social security context. It reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Ohio District Court Vacates ALJ Decision and Awards Benefits

October 21, 2015. A claimant with diabetes mellitus and bipolar disorder, among other impairments, was denied benefits after the ALJ assigned little weight to the claimant’s treating doctor’s opinions. The district court found that the ALJ erred by overlooking the extensive medical record, effectively deciding to ‘pick and choose’ the opinions that supported his position. The district court found that substantial evidence did not support the ALJ’s reasoning for discounting the treating physician’s opinions, and relied on his own non-medical lay opinion in rejecting numerous opinions of the treating physician. Therefore, the district court held that the ALJ’s decision was reversed and awarded benefits because the evidence of disability was overwhelming.

Texas District Court Reverses ALJ

September 15, 2015. A claimant with fibromyalgia, among other impairments, was found to be not disabled. The ALJ found that the claimant’s fibromyalgia was not severe, based on lack of objective medical evidence. The district court found that the ALJ had “misconstrued the applicable legal standards” when he made this determination. As fibromyalgia is very difficult to confirm, many courts will recognize that this is a disabling impairment and no objective tests exist to confirm its existence. In this case, there were numerous treatment notes indicating a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. The district court remanded the case for further proceedings because the ALJ improperly relied on a lack of objective findings to determine that the claimant’s fibromyalgia was not a medically determinable impairments, in violation of agency regulations.

Mississippi District Court Reverses ALJ

November 3, 2015. In this case, the claimant was denied benefits after the ALJ did not give any weight to the opinions of two treating physicians, indicating that the claimant had substantial limitations in performing activities. The district court reversed, holding that the ALJ was required to consider several factors before declining to give the treating physician’s opinion weight, including: the length of treatment, frequency of examination, nature and extent of treatment relationship, support of the opinion offered by medical evidence, consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the physician.

Illinois District Court Reverses ALJ

November 19, 2015. Here, the ALJ found claimant to be not disabled, and found that he had the RFC to perform sedentary work, based on the vocational expert’s testimony that jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant could perform. The vocational expert’s testimony was challenged by the claimant’s counsel at the hearing, but the ALJ did not inquire further to determine if the testimony was reliable. The vocational expert relied on SkillTRAN, a program used to estimate the number of jobs existing, however, its reliability was never determined by the court in this case. The district court held that the ALJ’s determination that there were jobs in the national economy that the claimant could perform, despite his impairments, was not based on substantial evidence.

Pennsylvania District Court Reverses ALJ

October 6, 2015. In this case, the claimant was denied benefits largely due to the ALJ’s determination that he was non-compliant with treatment for his impairments. We successfully argued that this determination of non-compliance should not have ended there; rather, the ALJ should have assessed whether good reasons existed for the claimant’s failure to follow a prescribed treatment. The district court held that it was the ALJ’s duty to determine whether there was a justifiable reason for the claimant’s refusal of treatment, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Michigan District Court Reverses ALJ

October 8, 2015. A claimant with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bipolar disorder, and anxiety was denied benefits. The ALJ assigned little weight to the claimant’s treating physician, who opined that the claimant was limited in sitting, standing, walking, lifting, fingering, reaching, handling, and lifting, and that she would be absent from any job often. Instead, the ALJ found the claimant had little to no limitations in these areas and could perform light work. The district court reversed, holding that the ALJ’s RFC determination was not based on medical evidence.