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When Will a Judge Award Me Social Security Disability Benefits

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerThere are multiple levels to the process of reviewing an application for Social Security disability benefits. An administrative law judge (ALJ) employed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) normally conducts a hearing and issues a decision to grant or deny benefits. If the ALJ denies benefits, the applicant can then file an internal appeal with SSA, and if that fails, file a lawsuit against the agency in federal court.

But even if a federal judge agrees with the applicant that the ALJ's decision was incorrect, the court will typically not award disability benefits directly. Instead, the court will remand–return–the case to Social Security for a new ALJ hearing, effectively restarting the entire process. However, in rare cases, a court may decide this is unnecessary and simply order Social Security to start paying disability benefits.

Seventh Circuit: Applicant's Age, Limited Education, and Prior Work Experience Justify Award of Benefits Without a Third Hearing

We recently saw an example of this from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. The plaintiff in this case, Marin v. Saul, has been unable to work for over a decade due to her physical and mental impairments. In 2012, an ALJ held a hearing and determined that despite the plaintiff's impairments, she could still “work in a sedentary job requiring little social interaction,” and denied her application for benefits. The plaintiff then went through the appeals process, and a federal district court ended up remanding the case back to Social Security for a new hearing.

This second hearing was held before a different ALJ. This ALJ decided the plaintiff suffered from no physical limitations at all and could “perform a full range of work at all exertional levels.” And while the second ALJ acknowledged the plaintiff still suffered from some mental impairments, she could still find work “involving only simple tasks with low stress, a flexible pace, and superficial interactions with others.” So once again, Social Security refused to pay any disability benefits.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit took issue with the second ALJ's finding that the plaintiff suffered from no physical limitations on her ability to work. Indeed, the appeals court said that in conclusion, “finds nowhere close to substantial support in the record.” Essentially, the second ALJ ignored all of the medical evidence presented. This alone would normally require a remand to Social Security for a third hearing.

But the Seventh Circuit took the extraordinary step of ordering an award of disability benefits to the plaintiff. The reasons for this were the plaintiff's age, education, and prior work experience. Social Security has what is known as “Medical-Vocational Guidelines” that direct a finding of disability based on these three factors. In this case, the plaintiff is over 55 (she is now 67), has only a high school education, and her prior work skills are not transferable to a new job. Under these circumstances, the Guidelines state the plaintiff is legally disabled, even though she might still be able to perform “light” or “sedentary” work. In fact, the Seventh Circuit said the plaintiff was entitled to an award of benefits retroactive to March 9, 2010, more than 10 years ago.

Speak with an Illinois Disability Benefits Attorney Today

While it is uncommon for a judge to directly award disability benefits, judicial review still provides an important tool for applicants to receive fair treatment from the Social Security Administration. If you need advice from a qualified Chicago Social Security disability lawyer on the best way to deal with a denial of your application for benefits, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today at 319-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation.




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