7th Circuit reverses denial of benefits, blasts ALJ’s reasoning

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Finding several things “wrong” with an administrative law judge’s decision denying a Fort Wayne woman’s application for Social Security Income for the years prior to her turning 55, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Michele A. Herrmann has several ailments, including fibromyalgia, spinal disk disease, and abnormal sensitivity to light that prevent her from doing light work on a full-time basis.

The ALJ turned down her request for the years before she turned 55, but because of a less demanding showing of disability required of applicants age 55 and older, Herrmann was deemed to have become disabled when she turned 55.

In making his decision, the ALJ brushed aside the physician’s findings and gave a garbled explanation of the evidence of Dr. Michael Holton, a consultative physician.

Herrmann appealed before the Social Security Administration and the District Court, but lost.

“The district court’s statement that ‘the ALJ’s evaluation of Dr. Holton’s opinion may not be perfect’ is a considerable understatement,” Judge Richard Posner wrote. “Coupled with the administrative law judge’s unreasoned brush off of the evidence offered by the other consulting physicians, his confused rejection of Dr. Holton’s evidence should have persuaded the district judge to reverse the denial of relief to the applicant and remand the matter to the Social Security Administration.”

The judges also took issue with the testimony by the vocational expert regarding the number of jobs in the local, state and national economy that an applicant for Social Security Disability Benefits is capable of performing. This is not the first time the 7th Circuit has expressed doubts regarding the source and accuracy of such statistics, Posner pointed out, citing Browning v. Colvin, 766 F.3d 702, 708-12 (7th Cir. 2014).

“We do not know how the vocational expert in this case calculated the numbers to which he testified. Nothing in the record enables us to verify those numbers, which the administrative law judge accepted,” Posner wrote.

The case is Michele A. Herrmann v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, 13-3624.


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