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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. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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