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Case Summaries

Osterhout Berger Disability Law > Case Summaries (Page 9)

Oklahoma District Court Reverses ALJ

March 19, 2015. This case was referred by a non-attorney representative from Oklahoma. The court remanded on the basis of a constellation of problems with the ALJs decision, which centered around her evaluation of plaintiff’s mental impairments. First, despite the favorable opinion issued by SSA’s examining psychologist, the ALJ never indicated what weight this opinion carried in her mind, and she did not explicitly reject any limitations set forth in that opinion. Second, although plaintiff’s treating sources were “non-acceptable sources”, the ALJ improperly rejected their opinions on the basis of their status as non-acceptable sources alone. Moreover, the ALJs mental RFC for “simple work in and habituated and object oriented work setting” was in sufficiently specific to account for her own findings that the claimant had moderate deficiencies in social functioning and in concentration, persistence and/or pace.

Florida court reverses ALJ

March 6, 2015. This case, referred by a nonattorney representative firm in Florida was remanded today on the basis that the ALJ’s mental RFC for “simple work” was found to be insufficiently descriptive in light of assessments provided by the claimant’s treating psychologist and SSA’s examining psychologist. Of note is the fact that the nonattorney representative had been unable to obtain treatment records from the psychologist, based upon her failure to provide them; the ALJ was informed of this fact and ignored the claimant’s request that he subpoena these records. This failure was found to be particularly egregious where, as here, the ALJ then relied upon the lack of the psychologist records as one of his rationales for giving little weight to that opinion.

California district court reverses ALJ

March 6, 2015. In this case referred by another office, the claimant was denied on the basis of ability to perform “past relevant work” as a hand packer. However, review of the claimant’s work history and earnings record revealed that this job had not been performed at SGA levels, and since the ALJ had failed to make alternate step 5 findings (and was unable to perform other work he had done in the past, as per the ALJs own findings), remand was needed to force a step 5 inquiry. Plaintiff also argued that the claimant’s need for a cane was improperly ignored by the ALJ, given the reaching and handling requirements of all of his past jobs. The court took up the first issue without reaching the second, and found that at best it was unclear whether plaintiff had worked in the past as a hand packer, and remanded on that basis.

Iowa District Court Reverses ALJ

March 9, 2015. In this case on referral from another law office, the ALJ had found that plaintiff’s mental impairments were “severe” within the meaning of the regulations, but the RFC finding contained no mental limitation on his ability to work. Moreover, there was evidence of record strongly suggesting that the claimant needed a cane to stand/walk, which has implications for his ability to reach, handle and finger objects but the ALJ relied upon vocational testimony naming jobs which require frequent reaching and handling and fingering. The court remanded primarily on the basis of the mental impairment argument, notably declining to accept several explanations for the ALJ’s errors which did not appear in the decision itself, in violation of the “Chenery Rule”.

Michigan District Court Reverses ALJ

In this case, referred by another attorney, the magistrate judge had recommended a ruling against us, but we were able to convince the District Court not to adopt the recommendation. This rarely happens, but it happened again to me for the fourth time this year. Essentially, the bottom line issue in this case was that the evidence supported mental limitations which the ALJ did not adopt, or adequately explain their rejection. The problem in this case was that, for whatever reason, the claimant was not in mental health treatment, but her very long time PCP had been prescribing medications and made observations at least sufficient enough to establish step 2 severity and, therefore, mental limitations. The District Court overruled the magistrate judge on the basis that the MJ had conflated the step 2 analysis with the step 4 analysis, and remanded for reconsideration of the claimant’s mental impairments.

Iowa District Court Reverses ALJ

In this case referred by another attorney, the claimant absolutely had a serious DAA problem with numerous relapses, some elements of noncompliance. But, the Brueggeman Eighth Circuit decision is really the only circuit decision that explicitly requires ALJs to follow the old emergency memo and now SSR 13-2p, and so even though this claimant plainly had a serious DAA problem the ALJ erred when he failed to consider the numerous periods of time when the claimant was sober, and how the evidence in terms of mental functioning really didn’t change much during those periods. Also, the ALJ did not really use the 13-2p analysis but rather just used DAA to attack credibility. Case remanded for reconsideration under the appropriate standards.

Western District of Arkansas

In this case, on referral by another attorney, the government moved for remand without filing a brief, after reading ours, and the Western District of Arkansas agreed. Although we do not normally get a very clear or specific indication of the errors that the government feels require a voluntary remand I believe one in particular, that the SSA examining psychologist had recommended neuropsychological evaluation to evaluate the claimant’s cognitive limitations, an examination of the claimant could not afford, and which had been explicitly declined for coverage by his insurance company, was SSA’s main issue with defending the case. However, the ALJ’s so-called mental RFC for “unskilled work” was inconsistent with SSA’s examining psychologist’s assessment, and the SSA consultant psychologist had described the claimant as limited to only 1 or 2 step tasks, and a review of the step 5 jobs provided by the VE indicated clearly that all of the named jobs required more than 1 or 2 steps, so it may have just been death by a thousand cuts.

Northern District of Ohio

In this case, on referral from another office, the Northern District of Ohio remanded on November 25. Although the court disagreed with our argument that the claimant met the requirements of Listing 12.05 (which I continue to adamantly disagree with), it agreed that the ALJ otherwise failed to give appropriate consideration to the claimant’s mental impairments when forming the RFC. In particular, in the Sixth Circuit, per Ealy, an ALJ should, in most situations, incorporate mental limitations from the PRT analysis particularly where, as here, the ALJ’s mental RFC was extremely nonspecific.

Eastern District of Wisconsin

This case, on referral from another attorney, was remanded by the District Court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin because the ALJ had failed to give appropriate consideration to the psychological consultative examiner, and to the state agency consultant psychologist, whose assessments established far greater limitations than was set forth in the ALJ’s mental RFC for “simple routine jobs”. With respect to both opinions, the ALJ claimed to give these opinions “great weight” but failed to incorporate the limitations fairly set forth in those decisions.