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Does Social Security Have to Give a Reason for Denying My Disability Application?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

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.

The ALJ largely rejected the podiatrist's testimony–on the grounds that he was not a medical doctor–and found the plaintiff did not qualify for disability benefits. On appeal, the magistrate said the ALJ “failed to evaluate the evidence” properly and “did not provide enough explanation … to facilitate meaningful judicial review.” This alone required a new hearing.

The magistrate repeatedly found the ALJ's analysis “perfunctory.” Specifically, the ALJ did not provide sufficient analysis of the relevant Social Security disability listings, even though the plaintiff did present evidence that she qualified as disabled under those listings. In most cases this was not a “harmless error,” the magistrate said, as the ALJ might well have reached a different decision if they had conducted a proper analysis.

As for the credibility of the podiatrist's testimony, the magistrate said the ALJ “does not explain how the fact that [the witness] is a podiatrist and not a medical doctor is relevant.” In disability cases, the issue is not whether a witness belongs to a particular specialty but whether they are an “acceptable medical source.” Under Social Security's own disability regulations, a licensed podiatrist “is an acceptable source” with respect to an applicant's feet- or ankle-related impairments.

Speak with an Illinois Disability Benefits Attorney Today

When you apply for disability benefits, you have the right to a fair hearing, which includes a proper explanation for any decision to reject your application. An experienced Chicago Social Security disability lawyer can help ensure the government follows its own rules in this regard. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.




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