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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 4)

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”.

North Carolina District Court Reverses ALJ

September 26, 2016.  In this case, the ALJ denied benefits, in part, after finding that a claimant with moderate limitations with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace was able to perform simple, repetitive tasks.  The district court reversed and remanded for further proceedings after we successfully argued that this restriction, without further explanation, did not adequately account for the claimant’s limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace.

Texas District Court Reverses ALJ

September 21, 2016.  In this case, the ALJ denied benefits to a 49-year-old claimant with several severe impairments, including obesity, chronic pain syndrome, and lumbar degenerative disc disease.  Included in the medical record were several medical opinions of the Agency’s own examining and non-examining physicians, as well as the claimant’s treating specialists that the ALJ either discounted or did not discuss at all.  We successfully argued that the ALJ’s failure to consider these opinions left his decision to be unsupported by substantial evidence.  In particular, the opinion of the claimant’s longtime orthopedic surgeon that limited him to no more than part-time work, and that he suffered a chronic disability was outcome determinative.  The district court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Vermont District Court Remands Case

September 20, 2016.  The claimant in this case was an Iraq War veteran who suffered numerous impairments related to his proximity to IED explosions while deployed.  The ALJ denied benefits, disregarding the claimant’s 90% service-connected disability rating from the VA and disregarding evidence that relief from frequently occurring headaches was only achieved when he relaxed with no light or sound.  The district court reversed, holding that the ALJ improperly discredited the VA rating and further, should have accounted for the impacts the claimant’s headaches had on his ability to perform work on a full-time basis, given the vocational expert’s testimony that an individual with the claimant’s impairments who was unable to be on task 95% of the work day or more, or would be absent from work more than once a month would not be employable.

Oklahoma District Court Reverses ALJ

September 16, 2016.  The claimant in this case was a child with ADHD.  The ALJ denied benefits, citing a lack of evidence concerning cognitive deficits.  We successfully argued that the evidence did exist, in particular, with opinions and statements from her school officials and psychologists, who provided proof that the claimant had “marked limitations” in several cognitive functioning domains. The district court held that this evidence outweighed the opinions of State Agency physicians who reviewed the claimant’s medical record, but did not examine the claimant, and that the ALJ’s decision was not based on substantial evidence.

Minnesota District Court Reverses ALJ

September 12, 2016.  In this case, the claimant with anxiety and depression, among other impairments, was denied benefits.  While she was evaluated at a Social Security Administration consultative psychological examination, the opinion of the Agency’s consultative psychologist that the claimant would have difficulty interacting with others and tolerating work-place stresses due to her psychological impairments was not discussed at all by the ALJ, and further, these limitations were not included in his RFC finding.  The district court held that this was error, finding that the ALJ’s analysis did not provide sufficient information to engage in proper review.

Iowa District Court Grants Immediate Benefits

August 31, 2016.  The claimant, an individual over 55, was denied benefits after the ALJ found that she could perform other work with the skills that she had acquired from her previous employment.  We successfully argued that with an individual over 55, the ALJ had to conduct a special analysis to determine if the claimant’s skills would transfer.  His failure to do so was outcome determinative: if her skills readily transferred, with little to no vocational adjustment to other work, she is not disabled, however, if she did not have readily transferable skills, she would have to be found disabled.  The district court reversed the decision, holding that further proceedings would “merely delay receipt of benefits”, and awarded benefits immediately.

Illinois Court Reverses ALJ

August 30, 2016.  In this case, the ALJ found that the claimant could stand and walk for no more than a total of 4 hours in a workday.  However, as we correctly pointed out to the district court (and the hearing attorney pointed out to the ALJ), the vocational expert provided jobs, which the ALJ relied on in denying benefits, that exceeded 4 hours of walking and standing in a workday.  The district court found this to be error, stating that “it would be illogical” to expect a claimant who has severe reflex sympathetic dystrophy and required the use of a cane to stand for six hours a day.  The district court held that the ALJ has an “affirmative responsibility” to determine whether there are any conflicts in the vocational expert’s testimony and resolve any conflicts, and, finding that this ALJ did no such thing, even when confronted with the conflict, reversed the ALJ’s decision.

Arizona District Court Remands

August 15, 2016. Here, the ALJ found that the claimant had mild difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace, but did not account for these limitations in his RFC finding or in his hypothetical question to the vocational expert.  He found that the claimant could still return to his work as a pharmacist.  We successfully argued that even these mild limitations are required to be included in the RFC finding, but at the very least, need to be posed to the vocational expert in order to make a determination as to whether there are jobs that exist given ALL a claimant’s limitations.