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IL disability attorneyIt is not uncommon for Social Security officials to initially deny your claim for disability benefits. Fortunately, you have certain appeal rights. In fact, there are four levels to the disability appeals process. First, you can ask for reconsideration. Second, you may request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Third, you can seek review of the ALJ's decision with Social Security's Appeals Council. Finally, you can seek judicial review of a “final” decision to deny benefits in federal court.

Illinois Magistrate Dismisses Social Security Appeal Filed One Day Late

At each stage of the appeals process, there are strict deadlines that you are expected to understand and comply with. If you file an appeal even one day late, a court may refuse to hear your case, regardless of the underlying merits. So it is critical that you act promptly to address a negative decision from Social Security.

For example, in a February 2020 case, McGhee v. Commissioner of Social Security, an Illinois federal magistrate judge granted the government's motion to dismiss an appeal brought by an unsuccessful disability applicant. The applicant previously went through the first three stages of the appeals process described above. In November 2017, an ALJ rejected the applicant's claim. The applicant then sought review from the Appeals Council.

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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 lawyerSocial Security often tries to justify a denial of disability benefits based on an applicant's purported ability to still perform basic household tasks. For example, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may reason that since an applicant can still cook for themselves or clean their house despite having a crippling back injury, they must still be capable of working full-time.

Illinois judges have long cautioned Social Security against over-reliance on such “daily living” tasks to disprove disability claims. But there is also the problem of Social Security ignoring evidence regarding an applicant's inability to perform household activities to help prove their claims.

ALJ Failed to Consider Applicant's Difficulties with Daily Living

A recent decision from a federal judge here in Illinois offers a useful example of the latter problem. The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits in 2014, alleging a number of mental impairments, including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After a hearing, a Social Security ALJ rejected the plaintiff's application, holding she could still perform certain jobs despite her limitations.

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