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ALJ didn't inform vocational expert on the totality of claimant's limitations

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court’s upholding of the Social Security Administration’s denial of a woman’s application for benefits because the Administrative Law Judge erred by not including her moderate limitation on concentration, persistence, and pace in the hypothetical he posed to a vocational expert.

Louquetta O’Connor-Spinner applied for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits in 2004. She suffers from depression, degenerative disc disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, sleep apnea, restrictive lung disease, and obesity. She claimed her impairments prevented her from working her past jobs as a deli clerk, nurse’s aide, shoe gluer, and fast-food worker, and that she couldn’t perform other jobs in the national economy.

She was examined by two psychologists. The SSA denied her claim, and ALJ found her not to be disabled. During her hearing, the ALJ asked William Cody, a vocational expert, whether a hypothetical worker with certain limitations could perform O’Connor-Spinner’s past jobs or other work in the national economy. None of the hypothetical situations posed by the ALJ included a limitation on concentration, persistence, and pace, which one of the psychologists noted O’Connor-Spinner had and it was caused by her depression. Cody found she couldn’t perform her past work but could find a job doing something else, such as a sedentary cashier. The District Court upheld the decision and later denied O’Connor-Spinner’s motion to alter or amend the judgment.

In Louquetta O’Connor-Spinner v. Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, No. 09-4083, the 7th Circuit concluded that the ALJ’s hypothetical did not supply Cody with adequate information to determine whether O’Connor-Spinner could perform jobs in the national economy. The judges noted their previous cases have generally required the ALJ to orient the vocational expert to the totality of a claimant’s limitations, and must consider deficiencies of concentration, persistence, and pace, wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple. The judges haven’t insisted that this specific terminology be used in the hypothetical in all cases, such as when a VE is familiar with a claimant’s limitations by reviewing medical records or hearing testimony directly on those limitations.

There’s no evidence in the instant case that Cody reviewed O’Connor-Spinner’s medical history or heard testimony about the limitation. The judges also found it’s not clear whether the hypothetical, which included a restriction to repetitive tasks with simple instructions, would have caused Cody to eliminate positions that would pose significant barriers to someone with depression-related problems in concentration, persistence, and pace.

“…limiting a hypothetical to simple, repetitive work does not necessarily address deficiencies of concentration, persistence and pace,” wrote Judge Ripple. “We acknowledge that there may be instances where a lapse on the part of the ALJ in framing the hypothetical will not result in a remand. Yet, for most cases, the ALJ should refer expressly to limitations on concentration, persistence and pace in the hypothetical in order to focus the VE’s attention on these limitations and assure reviewing courts that the VE’s testimony constitutes substantial evidence of the jobs a claimant can do. In this case, a remand is required.”

The 7th Circuit also ordered the ALJ to clarify his position on whether and to what extent he considered O’Connor-Spinner’s difficulty in taking instructions and responding appropriately to supervisors.
 

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  1. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  2. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  3. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

  4. If it were your child that died maybe you'd be more understanding. Most of us don't have graves to visit. My son was killed on a state road and I will be putting up a memorial where he died. It gives us a sense of peace to be at the location he took his last breath. Some people should be more understanding of that.

  5. Can we please take notice of the connection between the declining state of families across the United States and the RISE OF CPS INVOLVEMENT??? They call themselves "advocates" for "children's rights", however, statistics show those children whom are taken from, even NEGLIGENT homes are LESS likely to become successful, independent adults!!! Not to mention the undeniable lack of respect and lack of responsibility of the children being raised today vs the way we were raised 20 years ago, when families still existed. I was born in 1981 and I didn't even ever hear the term "CPS", in fact, I didn't even know they existed until about ten years ago... Now our children have disagreements between friends and they actually THREATEN EACH OTHER WITH, "I'll call CPS" or "I'll have [my parent] (usually singular) call CPS"!!!! And the truth is, no parent is perfect and we all have flaws and make mistakes, but it is RIGHTFULLY OURS - BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS GREAT NATION - to be imperfect. Let's take a good look at what kind of parenting those that are stealing our children are doing, what kind of adults are they producing? WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPED FROM THEIR FAMILY AND THAT CHILD'S SUCCESS - or otherwise - AS AN ADULT.....

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