ALJ Fails to Consider Certain Impairments in California SSI and SSDI Case

If you are trying to obtain SSI or SSDI benefits in Fresno, it can be important to retain an experienced attorney who can work to make sure the Social Security Administration understands the impact of all of your impairments on your case.  In a recent case in a court in the Central District of California, a plaintiff asked for review of the Commissioner’s denial of his request for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. The parties filed consents to go before a magistrate judge in 2017.

The claimant was born in 1956 and had previously worked as a caterer and a car rental manager. He applied for a period of disability benefits, claiming he hadn’t been able to work since 2011. His applications were denied initially, and he requested a hearing in front of an administrative judge.

At the hearing, the claimant testified, as did a medical expert and vocational expert. The administrative judge decided against him. The claimant asked the court to review.

The court explained that the administrative law judge or commissioner must follow a five-step analysis to decide whether a claimant is disabled. The first issue is whether the claimant is employed in a substantial gainful activity. If the answer is yes, there is no disability, and a denial is issued. The next question is whether the claimant has a combination of impairments or a serious impairment that restricts his ability to perform basic work activities. If the answer is no, there is a finding he isn’t disabled. But if the answer is yes, the next issue is whether the impairments equal a listed impairment. When they don’t equal a listed impairment, the Commissioner is supposed to look at whether the claimant has enough residual functional capacity to do his past work.

The claimant must prove he’s not able to do past relevant work. If he is not able to do this work, there’s a prima facie disability case. The Commissioner must show through a vocational expert’s testimony or by pointing to certain medical-vocation guidelines that the claimant isn’t disabled because there’s other work in notable numbers he can perform.

In this case, the administrative law judge found that the claimant hadn’t been involved in substantial gainful activity and suffered from severe impairments, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, and degenerative disc disease. The judge determined that the plaintiff’s left knee problem only minimally limited his ability to do work activities. The judge also decided that the plaintiff didn’t have an impairment or combination of impairments that were equal to any of the impairments in the listing.

The administrative law judge found the claimant still had residual functional capacity and could do light work. The plaintiff’s request for benefits was denied, and the plaintiff asked the court for review, arguing that the administrative law judge hadn’t adequately evaluated his left knee impairments, which had arisen after a car crash. He also suffered neuropathy of his feet and hands based on diabetes.

The defendant argued the plaintiff hadn’t shown any evidence that these triggered work-related restrictions or left him not able to do a range of light work. The court noted that the administrative judge had reviewed the records. However, they hadn’t adequately considered the knee issues and carpal tunnel syndrome. The court found the plaintiff had given enough evidence of signs and findings to show he had medical problems with his knee, carpal tunnel syndrome, and peripheral neuropathy. Accordingly, the court sent the matter back to the Commission to determine the duration and severity of those impairments.

Many people are initially denied Social Security Disability benefits. Often, working with an experienced Social Security lawyer can make a difference to the outcome of your case. If you believe you may need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits in Fresno, contact Peña & Bromberg, PLC at 559-439-9700 or via our online form.

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