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IL disability lawyerSocial Security officials will often cite a person's ability to perform certain basic tasks as “proof” they are not entitled to disability benefits. But the whole point of disability is that a person lacks the physical or mental capacity to work full-time, which is not the same thing as, say, being able to use a computer a few minutes a day.

Magistrate: Casual Activities Does Not Prove Disability Applicant Can Sit All Day

A recent Social Security disability case from here in Illinois offers a helpful example of what we are talking about. In this case, the plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in 2012. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the application. The plaintiff then asked a federal court to reverse the ALJ's decision and order a new hearing.

In a March 2019 opinion, a federal magistrate granted the plaintiff's request. The magistrate cited a couple of reasons for her decision. Of interest here is one argument raised by Social Security–that the plaintiff was capable of performing “full-time sedentary work” based on the fact he admitted to trading stocks online while supposedly disabled.

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Chicago Social Security Disability LawyersSocial Security Disability cases often turn on agency officials’ subjective views of the applicant’s “credibility.” This is a particular issue when the applicant’s inability to work is due to chronic pain. Put bluntly, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have a history of disregarding complaints of pain as faking or exaggeration on the part of the applicant.

Social Security Chided Again for Equating Life Activities With Employment

The law, however, at least as it is supposed to be applied in Illinois, is that Social Security cannot simply ignore an applicant’s testimony regarding their pain. Nor can Social Security point to evidence the applicant is capable of performing daily “life activities” as conclusive proof that he or she can hold down a physically demanding full-time job.

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household chores, daily activities, Chicago Social Security Disability LawyerOne excuse officials offer when denying Social Security Disability insurance benefits is the fact an applicant, in spite of a demonstrated and severe medical impairment, may continue to perform certain “daily activities,” such as cooking or household chores. Social Security may claim this proves the applicant is capable of working outside the home and therefore not genuinely disabled. But as the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions govern all Social Security disability claims raised in Chicago and throughout Illinois, has said, there are “critical differences between activities of daily living and activities in a full-time job.” When performing the former, a disabled person “is not held to a minimum standard of performance, as she would be by an employer.”

But while the Seventh Circuit has made it clear Social Security cannot deny disability benefits solely because the applicant can perform “daily activities,” the agency may still consider it as a factor. A recent Seventh Circuit decision offers an illustration. In this case, a 34-year-old woman applied for Social Security disability benefits, citing “painful bladder syndrome,” bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit disorder. As a result of these impairments, the applicant complained of “severe” pain and the need to frequently use the restroom. Before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), she testified “her need to urinate frequently made holding a job difficult, and that the stress of working exacerbated her symptoms.”

The ALJ did not believe the applicant's testimony, however, and denied her disability claim. Among other reasons, the ALJ cited the applicant's ability to perform daily activities—specifically, “reading, playing video games, watching television, sewing, and handling money”—proved she was “exaggerating her symptoms” and likely could work. The applicant appealed the ALJ's decision in federal court.

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