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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 5)

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.

Oregon District Court Reverses ALJ

August 12, 2016.  A claimant who suffered lumbar spine degenerative disc disease with pain, among other things, was denied benefits, in part because the ALJ found the claimant was not credible.  The district court reversed, finding that the claimant’s exemplary 21 year work history, coupled with her consistent statements of severe pain and discomfort throughout the record proved she was not malingering.  The district court held that the ALJ was required to consider this evidence, particularly the fact that the claimant even attempted to return to work, asking her doctor for his approval  after being placed on mandated bed rest.

Florida District Court Rules in Veteran’s Favor

August 2, 2016. The claimant in this case, a veteran of the U.S. Army with a 100% service-connected disability rating from the VA was denied benefits after the ALJ disregarded the VA’s disability rating. We successfully argued that the ALJ was required to, at the very least, consider the merits and provide a meaningful analysis of the VA rating. The district court agreed, finding that the VA rating must be considered and it may not be rejected simply because the VA’s disability criteria differs from that of the Social Security Administration.

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.