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Judges order SSA to determine if father is entitled to daughter’s disability benefits

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday sent a case back to the Social Security Administration after finding an administrative law judge’s decision that a woman was not totally disabled until Nov. 1, 2008, “deeply flawed.”

Pamela Townsend applied for Social Security Disability Insurance in 2003, claiming she had become incapable of full-time employment in May 2002 due to physical and psychiatric elements. She lived with her parents and her father, Gene Williams, testified at two of her hearings as well as Townsend. The two did not testify at a third hearing held on the matter.

In January 2012, the administrative law judge decided that she did not become totally disabled until Nov. 1, 2008. Townsend died several months after the hearing and so Williams appealed the ALJ’s ruling partially adverse to his daughter’s claim. He wanted the date she became totally disabled pushed back to May 1, 2002. If the date she became totally disabled is earlier than June 30, 2006, the date on which Townsend ceased to be covered by SSDI, her father is entitled to his daughter’s disability insurance benefits from that date until the date of her death.

“As we – and other circuits – have emphasized repeatedly in reviewing denials of disability benefits by the Social Security Administration’s administrative law judges, the combined effects of the applicants impairments must be considered, including impairments that considered one by one are not disabling,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in Gene Williams on behalf of Pamela J. Townsend v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, 13-3607.

The ALJ made it clear in her decision that she thought Townsend’s “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her fibromyalgia symptoms … (were) not credible prior to November 1, 2008, to the extent that they are inconsistent with” her being able to work.

The 7th Circuit found the ALJ’s analysis deeply flawed, pointing out that the judge assessed Townsend’s credibility without asking any questions of her and her father even though they both were present at the third hearing.

“The need to hear what Townsend might say concerning her physical ailments was essential because the medical evidence was inconclusive,” Posner wrote.

The doctor on whom the ALJ relied so heavily had not testified that Townsend was exaggerating her physical symptoms, but rather that since they probably had not been caused by fibromyalgia she should have additional medical tests in order to determine the cause.

“The administrative law judge committed the further error … of ignoring the combined effect of Townsend’s ailments on her ability to work. She considered Townsend’s psychiatric problems and found them not to be disabling, and then considered her physical problems and found them not to be disabling either, but she ignored the possibility that the combination was disabling,” Posner wrote.

These errors require reversal and remand to the Social Security Administration for a redetermination of the date on which Townsend became totally disabled and thus eligible for disability insurance benefits.
 

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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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