Court: ALJ's ruling had several errors

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Finding an administrative law judge's decision to deny a woman's claim for disability benefits contained several significant errors, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's affirmation of the denial and remanded the case to the Social Security Administration.

In Debi Villano v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, No. 08-2150, Debi Villano appealed the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. She claimed she was disabled permanently because she had arthritis in her knees and was obese. The Social Security Administration denied her claims, and the District Court upheld the administrative law judge's decision to deny her claims.

The ALJ performed a five-step analysis looking at how long it had been since Villano last worked, her impairments, and residual functioning capacity to determine she wasn't disabled.

But the ALJ erred when determining Villano's statements that she couldn't sit for six hours a day weren't credible because no medical evidence showed she couldn't. The ALJ failed to acknowledge Villano was obese, and this failure may impact the credibility determination, the Circuit judges determined in the per curium opinion. In addition, the ALJ couldn't discredit a claimant's testimony about pain and limitations solely because there is no objective medical evidence supporting it, the court continued.

The ALJ also erred in determining Villano's residual functioning capacity. The judge had to evaluate all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe, and may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling, wrote the court. The ALJ's cursory analysis doesn't give the 7th Circuit Court confidence he had appropriate reasons for rejecting the limitations Villano alleged.

In addition, he erred in determining Villano could perform a significant number of jobs and finding that Villano had acquired the transferable skill of "judgment." Other Circuit Courts have ruled that judgment isn't a skill, and the ALJ erred in concluding Villano had a generalized skill of judgment that was somehow transferable to new jobs in a different field. He also mistakenly ruled Villano could perform more than 15,000 jobs.

"In light of the other problems we have identified, we are not convinced that these errors are harmless," the court wrote.

On remand, the ALJ should give reasoned assessments of Villano's credibility, residual functioning capability, transferable skills, and ability to perform a significant number of jobs.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.