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IL disability lawyerIt is not unusual for Social Security to initially deny a disability claim. This is why there is a process in place to request an administrative hearing, and if necessary appeal a denial. However, there are some cases where Social Security makes repeated mistakes in its handling of a disability application, to the point where the applicant may need to pursue multiple rounds of appeals just to get a fair hearing.

Big Toe Presents Big Headache for Social Security, Federal Judges

One of the more extreme examples of this came in a recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Dolores R. v. Saul. In this case, the magistrate felt compelled to remand–i.e., return for a new hearing–a case back to Social Security for a third time, largely because the agency's administrative law judge (ALJ) failed to carry out the court's instructions following prior remands. And to put the timeline of this case into perspective, the plaintiff initially filed her application for disability benefits in August 2010–more than nine years ago.

An ALJ initially denied the plaintiff's application in 2012. In May 2014, a magistrate judge remanded the case for the first time. So the ALJ held a second hearing and again denied the plaintiff's application. In May 2017, a second magistrate judge remanded the case a second time. This led to the third and most-recent hearing before the ALJ, which again led to a finding the applicant did not legally qualify as disabled.

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IL disability lawyerWe often come across Social Security disability cases where an administrative law judge (ALJ) improperly tries to “play doctor.” In the most serious cases, the ALJ will simply ignore medical evidence outright if it poses a potential hurdle to finding the applicant is not legally disabled. Such actions violate both the letter and the spirit of disability law.

Magistrate: ALJ “Mischaracterized” Evidence Supporting Disability Claim

Fortunately, federal courts are ready and willing to call Social Security out on such behavior. This was the case in a recent decision, Karl B. v. Commissioner, where a magistrate judge said an ALJ “left some evidence out” of their decision because it “corroborated plaintiff's claims” in support of his disability application. The magistrate, therefore, ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing.

The plaintiff in this case is a man in his early 50s. He previously held a number of jobs as a “car washer, loader, lot driver, sales representative, and sign holder,” according to court records. In his disability application, the plaintiff cited a number of impairments that prevented him from working, notably chronic pain and stomach problems arising from a 2001 armed robbery where he was shot. After an evidentiary hearing, a Social Security ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for disability benefits.

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IL disability lawyerAs we have discussed many times before, it often takes many years for a disability applicant to receive a final decision from Social Security. And in many of those cases, there may be several years of additional appeals following a denial of disability benefits. During this lengthy period, many disability applicants, unfortunately, pass away. Under the law, the applicant's spouse, children, or other beneficiaries may continue to pursue the disability claim.

Magistrate Rules Social Security Failed to Properly Justify Decision Denying Now-Deceased Woman Disability Benefits

Just recently, a federal judge here in Illinois ruled in favor of a widower who sought to reverse a Social Security decision denying his late wife's claim for disability benefits. The deceased injured her back in 2012 while working at a retail store. The injury was severe enough that she required surgery. But even then, she continued to suffer from chronic leg and back pain. This eventually led to her filing an application for disability benefits in 2014.

Following a 2016 hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the deceased was not legally disabled. Despite her impairments, the ALJ said she could still perform “light work with certain restrictions.” The applicant died in 2017, so her husband appealed the ALJ's decision on her behalf.

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