7th Circuit finds ALJ’s methodology flawed, orders more proceedings

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found an administrative law judge’s opinion denying a man Social Security disability benefits reflects a “flawed evaluation of the record of evidence,” so it ordered more proceedings on the matter.

Kenneth Owen Scrogham sought the disability benefits when he was 53 years old. He said he had to stop working because he had a variety of health problems, mostly leg and back pain. He claimed a variety of medical conditions, including degenerative discs, hypertension and restless leg syndrome, constituted a qualifying disability.

His application was initially denied, and then denied again by an administrative law judge after a hearing. Scrogham sought judicial review of the ALJ’s decision, which the District Court affirmed. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in the Southern District of Indiana found the ALJ did not err in giving less weight to the opinion of a treating physician than to the opinions of nontreating physicians. She also held the ALJ permissibly found Scrogham not to be credible and the ALJ’s decision was otherwise supported by substantial evidence.

But the 7th Circuit disagreed Wednesday, reversing the District Court’s decision and ordering more proceedings. Judges Kenneth Ripple, Ann Clair Williams and David Hamilton found several flaws in the ALJ’s methodology. The ALJ “impermissibly ignored” a line of evidence demonstrating the progressive nature of Scrogham’s degenerative disc disease and arthritis,
Ripple wrote. It also seems as though the ALJ misapprehended or only partially considered some of the evidence about his daily activities, rehabilitation efforts and physicians’ evaluations.

“This lapse affected both the ALJ’s credibility determination and her residual functional capacity assessment,” Ripple wrote.

“We emphasize, however, that we do not decide here that Mr. Scrogham is entitled to benefits,” he continued. “It may be that he has exaggerated his symptoms or that more in-depth study of his condition would show that he could perform some work. These are issues for the ALJ to decide, using the agency’s expertise.”

The case is Kenneth Owen Scrogham v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, 13-3601.


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