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7th Circuit ‘astonished’ by denial of disability for man in ‘awful shape’

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Judges of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday slapped down the denial of disability benefits for a man they said was among the most severely disabled applicants they had ever seen.

“We can’t figure out what the administrative law judge was thinking when he found that (Michael) Garcia could do construction work as late as 2010,” Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote in reversing the denial of benefits. The panel remanded the matter to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings with a clear message that Garcia’s disability benefits were erroneously denied.

Garcia had been a construction worker until his employer shut down in 2008, according to the record. But Posner recited a litany of Garcia’s medical problems and wrote that those who denied his disability claim overlooked his former employer’s testimony that Garcia’s particular skills and abilities were highly valued, and so he was permitted to take off work two or three days a week on account of his health problems.

“Garcia is, and has been since he applied for disability benefits, in awful shape,” Posner wrote in Michael E. Garcia v. Carolyn W. Colvin, 13-2120. “We are astonished that the administrative law judge, seconded by the district court, should have thought him capable of full-time employment (40 hours a week). The administrative law judge’s opinion is riddled with errors.”

Two doctors – including a Social Security physician – attested that Garcia was incapable of full-time work, and the panel said no weight was given to that testimony even though no contrary evidence was presented.

“Garcia is one of the most seriously disabled applicants for (S)ocial (S)ecurity disability benefits whom we’ve encountered in many years of adjudicating appeals from benefits denials. We are surprised that the Justice Department would defend such a denial,” Posner wrote for the court.

 

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