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Chicago Appeals Court Says Disability Applicant Entitled to New Hearing

 Posted on September 01, 2015 in Social Security Disability

social security appeals, Chicago disability lawyerMany people are denied Social Security Disability Insurance benefits on their first application. Disability cases are initially heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ), who, despite the title, is not a judge in the conventional sense. An ALJ is actually an employee of the Social Security Administration who initially reviews claims on behalf of the Commissioner of Social Security. Typically, an ALJ examines a disability applicant's medical record, questions the applicant, and reviews expert testimony before approving or rejecting a disability claim. If the ALJ rejects a claim, the applicant may appeal to a federal court.

Judge Unimpressed With Social Security Official's “Scattershot Analysis”

In a recent case, a federal appeals court in Chicago harshly criticized an ALJ who denied a Social Security disability claim despite overwhelming evidence the applicant was “totally disabled.” The applicant was 22 years old and previously worked as a “warehouse worker, landscape laborer, and forklift driver,” according to court records. In 2010, he was “struck in the back of his head by an assailant wielding a bar stool as a weapon.” The applicant subsequently required brain surgery, during which he suffered a seizure.

Even after the surgery, the applicant complained of persistent “headaches, dizziness, and confusion.” Shortly before his disability hearing with the Social Security ALJ, two physicians diagnosed the applicant with “chronic daily headaches” which “interfered with his normal activities” and “complex partial seizure activity.” The applicant also suffered from depression.

Despite all this, the ALJ determined the applicant was not totally disabled. She said despite his “multiple severe impairments,” the applicant could “perform light work that involves no concentrated exposure to bright lights or jarring movements … and no more than superficial interaction with members of the public.” The ALJ further cited testimony from a vocational expert who said the applicant could still work as a “retail marker, hand packager, or addresser.”

The applicant appealed the ALJ's decision, first to a federal district court, and later to the Seventh Circuit, which has appellate jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Judge Richard Posner, writing for a three-judge panel, was unimpressed with ALJ's decision, to put it mildly. The ALJ “made no effort to consider the combined effects on [the applicant's] ability to work of all his impairments and limitations,” Judge Posner said, specifically citing her failure to comment on the applicant's complex partial seizure activity diagnosis. “Why didn't [the ALJ] ask a reputable neurologist and a reputable pain specialist” to review the applicant's medical records, Judge Posner asked rhetorically, concluding the ALJ's “scattershot analysis leaves us with no confidence that [the applicant's] fitness for full-time gainful employment as of the hearing date was responsibly determined.”

Judge Posner also commented on the ALJ's reliance on the testimony of an occupational expert. As noted above, the expert said the claimant could work as a “retail marker, hand packager, or addresser.” The expert offered statistics as to the number of such jobs available near the claimant's home. But when Judge Posner asked the Social Security Administration's attorney to explain where these statistics came from, “she had no idea and added that the agency's lawyers are forbidden to speak to vocational experts.” Judge Posner found that “hard to believe,” and, more to the point, he said the vocational expert's “stated number of jobs in a narrow category seems likely [] to be a fabrication.”

Get Help from Our Social Security Attorneys

The Seventh Circuit's decision does not automatically mean the claimant will receive Social Security disability benefits. It merely entitles him to a new hearing, hopefully before a more understanding ALJ. This decision should also serve as a wake-up call for anyone else denied Social Security benefits. If you need assistance from an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, right away.



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