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IL disability lawyerWhen a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) denies your application for disability benefits, they must give credible reasons for that denial. It is not enough for the ALJ to simply state you failed to provide enough evidence. The ALJ is required to provide sufficient reasons so that a reviewing court can later decide if those reasons were valid. An ALJ who fails to give such reasons, but instead offers nothing more than a lazy or “perfunctory” analysis of the applicant's case, is subject to summary reversal by a federal court.

Magistrate Chides ALJ for “Perfunctory” Analysis of Disability Claim

Here is an example of what we mean. This is taken from a recent decision by a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Jonie G. v. Saul. In this case, a plaintiff applied for disability benefits and appeared at a hearing before an ALJ in 2016. The ALJ ended up denying the plaintiff's application, which Social Security later upheld in its internal appeals process.

The main issue in the plaintiff's case was the impact of her type-2 diabetes on her ability to walk and sit. Before the ALJ, the plaintiff produced medical evidence from her treating podiatrist, who opined that the plaintiff “could not walk a single block without pain, required a cane, could not lift ten pounds, could not stand for more than thirty minutes, must keep her feet elevated for 90% of a workday, could not sit for more than four hours, [and] would be absent from work more than 25% of the time.” In short, the plaintiff was not capable of holding down a full-time job under these restrictions.

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IL disability lawyerSocial Security disability cases are supposed to center on medical evidence, in particular, the diagnosis and expert views of the applicant's treating physicians. Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are normally expected to give “controlling weight” to a treating physician's views. If the ALJ discounts or rejects this testimony, there are a number of regulatory factors that must be considered and explained.

Magistrate: ALJ Failed to Follow Agency Regulations Before Discounting Doctor's Evidence

But as we have often found in practice, ALJs often disregard treating-physician evidence without giving a valid explanation, or even any explanation at all that conforms to the agency's own regulatory factors. A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Deborah AM v. Saul, offers a textbook example of this problem.

In this case, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits nearly five years ago. Following a hearing on the plaintiff's application, a Social Security ALJ held she did not legally qualify for disability benefits. The ALJ reached this conclusion after deciding not to give controlling weight to the evidence offered by the plaintiff's treating physician.

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IL disability lawyerThe Social Security disability application process often puts individuals in a bind. On the one hand, the law requires proof they are unable to hold down even a “sedentary” position. On the other hand, many applicants feel they need to at least apply for work, if for no other reason than to have some source of income while waiting to hear back from Social Security.

But will apply for a job–or even multiple jobs–doom your disability benefits application? The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees disability cases here in Illinois, has said in the past that a “job search” by itself does not discredit an applicant's disability claim. In many cases, looking for work may simply reflect a strong internal work ethic or an “overly optimistic outlook” about one's job prospects. But in other cases, Social Security or a court may consider job applications as part of the overall evidence supporting or undermining an individual's claims.

Social Security Denies Disability After ALJ Suggests Applicant “Lost His Motivation to Work”

A recent example of the latter is Primm v. Saul, a recent Seventh Circuit decision where the Court affirmed Social Security's decision to reject a disability claim. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits, alleging he was unable to work from 2006 through 2014 due to a variety of impairments. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that despite the plaintiff's ailments, he was still capable of performing “sedentary work” during the relevant period and was therefore not legally disabled.

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