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7th Circuit orders agency to reconsider denial of benefits

July 10, 2014

Finding the “logical bridge” between evidence and conclusion that is needed to affirm a denial of disability benefits was not “sound” in a case before them, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s affirmation of the denial of a woman’s Social Security disability benefits.

“The logical bridge was not sound here. The ALJ relied on three principal grounds to find that Ms. Beardsley could do light work: (1) her description of her own capabilities and daily activities, (2) the opinion of Dr. Brill, and (3) Ms. Beardsley’s conservative course of treatment, including her decision not to seek surgery. … [N]one of these factors, considered individually or collectively, provides adequate support for the ALJ’s conclusion that Ms. Beardsley could perform work more demanding than sedentary work,” Judge David Hamilton wrote in Cheryl Beardsley v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security
13-3609.

Dr. M. Brill, a Social Security Administration physician, found that applicant Cheryl Beardsley could stand or walk for about six hours out of an eight-hour workday and she could occasionally climb stairs, kneel or do other activities.

Beardsley was 49 at the time she fell and injured her knee. She did not have surgery, but did receive shots for her existing arthritis in that knee. She was also obese. She applied for disability benefits and was evaluated by two agency doctors – Brill, who went by the paper record, and Dr. Larry Banyash, who examined her. Banyash thought she was capable of sedentary work, but based on other factors, would qualify as disabled.

The federal appeals court found the ALJ’s failure to consider evidence that Beardsley was bothered by her knee enough to consider having the operation as well as her concerns about how she would pay for the surgery was a legal error. The record doesn’t support his explanation for discounting Banyash’s opinion, and the judges were troubled by the ALJ’s reliance on Beardsley’s care that she provided for her mother as the main reason to discount the evidence of her physical limitations. Most of what Beardsley did at her mother’s house was sedentary – playing cards, watching television or preparing simple meals.

“These tasks ‘differ dramatically’ from the type of jobs the ALJ believe Ms. Beardsley was capable of performing, and lend no support to the conclusion that she would be able to spend six hours a day, every day, on her feet working.”

The judges sent the case back to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.


 

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