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Denial of SSI reversed for failure to consider mental health

December 3, 2013

A woman who claimed disability in part because of her diminished mental health will get another chance to present her case after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the administrative law judge did not properly consider the opinions and testimony regarding the woman’s mental condition.

Carol Bates applied for Supplemental Security Income following an auto accident that left her with physical and mental impairments and inhibited her ability to work. Her treating psychiatrist diagnosed Bates with bipolar type 2 disorder but noted that medication appeared to be helping.

The ALJ denied her application and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, affirmed. In Carol Bates v. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 12-3359, the 7th Circuit reversed the decision of the District Court and remanded for rehearing.

The 7th Circuit found the ALJ was not “patently wrong” in discrediting Bates’ testimony about the extent of her chronic pain. Although the ALJ disregarded the opinions of two physicians treating Bates in favor of the opinion of the consultative doctor, this was not an error because the ALJ found discrepancies in Bates’ testimony and observed the claimant did not appear to be in pain during the hearing.

However, the ALJ did not provide any sound reasons for giving little weight to the psychiatrist’s opinion which was supported with Bates’ testimony and primary physicians.
 
“…in this case there was no other medical opinion for the ALJ to fall upon,” Judge Michael Kanne wrote for the court. “The state agency examining and consultative physicians did not examine Bates for psychological illness; at the time they reviewed her record, Bates had only seen a therapist briefly after the death of her fiancé. While Bates did bear the burden of producing evidence of her impairments, if the ALJ thought this evidence insufficient – as she apparently did – it was her responsibility to recognize the need for additional evaluations.”

 

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