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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 lawyerMental disorders often pose unique challenges for individuals seeking Social Security disability benefits. It is not always easy to measure the impact of a mental impairment in the same way as a physical limitation. This is why Social Security regulations require agency officials to consider “any other relevant evidence” in addition to an applicant's medical records when assessing the severity of a mental impairment.

Federal Appeals Court Orders New Disability Hearing After Social Security Judge Ignores Evidence

Of course, Social Security has a habit of not always following its own regulations. A recent example of this came in a decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Dunn v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case held down a number of jobs through 2012, at which point he claimed he could no longer work due to his “memory loss.”

A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) subsequently reviewed the plaintiff's application and determined his memory loss was not “severe” enough to justify an award of disability benefits. On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiff argued the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. The appeals court agreed with the plaintiff and returned the case to Social Security for a new hearing.

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IL disability lawyerYou would think in assessing an application for disability benefits, Social Security would give greater weight to the opinions of a specialist who actually treated the applicant over rather than a less-qualified doctor who only performed a casual examination. But the reality is Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) often prefer whatever testimony supports a finding the applicant is not disabled.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After ALJ Credits Opinions of Family Doctor Over Orthopedic Surgeon

A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Cheryl G. v. Saul, helps to illustrate this problem. The plaintiff in this case previously worked as a legal secretary and school bus driver. But she has been unable to work in any capacity since 2010 as the result of a severe ankle injury that required multiple surgeries.

In fact, the plaintiff has had surgeries performed on her since 2010. One of the plaintiff's surgeons testified about her job prospects during a deposition in connection with the plaintiff's efforts to obtain workers' compensation benefits. In this deposition, the surgeon said the plaintiff "could have probably done some kind of sedentary duty if such an occupation existed in a bus driving facility." But she was unable to drive and would require "substantial breaks or half days to allow her to function." And due to the nature of the plaintiff's injuries, the surgeon said she could not sit for prolonged periods of time.

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