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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 8)

Pennsylvania District Court Reverses ALJ

April 21, 2015. This case turned on the fact that in the Third Circuit SSA has agreed to be bound by these Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Sykes v. Commissioner, which held that except in very narrow exceptions, an ALJ must consult a vocational expert in the presence of nonexertional limitations (in this case, postural limitations and partially because of undiscussed mental limitations). Here, the government agreed to remand once advised of the Sykes violation.

Claimant Awarded $42,000 Following Remand

April 17, 2015. We had obtained a remand from the Massachusetts District Court last year on the basis that the ALJ had failed to give appropriate weight to the opinion of her treating rheumatologist and had failed altogether to discuss confirming documentation from her long time chiropractor. Also in this case, the court found convincing our argument that the ALJ had improperly ignored the fact that the claimant had worked for 29 straight years prior to her alleged onset date of disability when finding her not credible. At the hearing, we made a minor adjustment to the alleged onset date, to correspond to her achievement of age 55 and the ALJ ruled from the bench in her favor.

North Carolina District Court Reverses ALJ

April 17, 2015. Here the ALJ had found the claimant’s mental impairments to be “not severe” even though the treating source, the consultative examiner, and the state agency consultant all found mental impairments to be severe and result in at least some mental work limitations, and the district court remanded for further proceedings. Surprisingly, the government defended this case (although, maybe not so surprisingly; my opinion is that they did so because the Western District of North Carolina District Court tends to affirm virtually 100% of the time – – the government’s brief in response to mine was a jumble of evasions and half-truths, rather than anything like a direct response to the actual legal arguments).

Virginia District Court Reverses ALJ

April 16, 2015. In this case, the Appeals Council had rejected in one boilerplate sentence 150 pages of medical records as not being “material” to the ALJ’s decision, despite the fact that the missing evidence (which the claimant’s previous representative had explained to the ALJ she was having difficulty getting, and had asked for additional time after the hearing to obtain it – – which the ALJ denied) was relied upon in part in the ALJ’s decision as a basis to find that the claimant’s complaints were not credible. We successfully argued that the evidence were material and, in fact, SSA agreed voluntarily to remand the case to consider the evidence.

Claimant Awarded $120,000 Following Remand

April 11, 2015. We were able to obtain a remand for this claimant about six months ago in the Eastern District of Michigan based upon a flawed step 4 finding that claimant he could perform his past work as actually performed, and where the ALJ had failed to obtain any vocational expert testimony with respect to whether the job was performed differently as generally performed. In particular, the ALJ asked the claimant one or two questions at the hearing about his past job in the auto industry, and relied upon those two answers to find that the claimant’s past work was light work as actually performed, without considering the expanded explanation the claimant had provided on the Work History Report. On remand we had obtained a vocational report which 1) opined that the claimant’s past work as actually performed was medium and, significantly, 2) that this was also how the job was performed generally, contrary to the DOT description. Once the vocational expert at the hearing readily agreed that the job was medium AAP and AGP, the ALJ found in the claimant’s favor with a slight modification of the onset date. Since the claimant’s was awarded benefits with an AOD of March 2010 and a PIA of over $2000 per month, he will receive approximately $120,000 in PDBs.

Minnesota District Court Reverses ALJ

March 30, 2015. In this case, referred by a nonattorney representative firm, we successfully argued that the ALJ had failed to notice or discuss the claimant’s impending 55th birthday (three months) as of the date of her last insured. The Eighth Circuit has fairly detailed holdings on the subject of “borderline age situations”, Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F. 3d 699, 704 (8th Cir. 2012), which supported our position that the ALJ’s complete failure to discuss the issue was sufficient cause for remand; however, we were also able to show that the record established significant “vocational adversities”.

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.