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ALJ’s numerous errors require denial of benefits reversed

January 8, 2015

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a federal judge to uphold the denial of a man’s request for disability insurance benefits. The appeals court held that an administrative law judge made a number of errors when considering the record.

Daniel P. Minnick sought Social Security benefits due to several serious medical problems, including fibromyalgia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and degenerative disc disease. The Disability Determination Bureau denied his claim and an administrative law judge determined he is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Since the Appeals Council denied his request for review, Minnick sought review in the District Court, which affirmed the ALJ’s decision.

In making her decision, the ALJ discredited one of Minnick’s treating physicians after finding he rendered inconsistent assessments. She also relied on a vocational expert’s testimony that Minnick could work in various unskilled sedentary occupations.

In Daniel P. Minnick v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, 13-3626, the 7th Circuit judges pointed out that the ALJ offered a perfunctory analysis in determining Minnick’s degenerative disc disease did not meet or equal Listing of Impairments 1.04 involving spinal disorders.

“The ALJ dismissed the possibility of Minnick’s degenerative disc disease meeting or equal[ing] Listing 1.04’s criteria in two sentences. Beyond these two sentences, she provided no analysis whatsoever supporting her conclusion,” Judge William Bauer wrote.

They also found the ALJ erred by assessing a residual functional capacity assessment that was not supported by substantial evidence. She discredited Minnick’s testimony using “the type of boilerplate language that we have consistently criticized,” Bauer continued. The ALJ discounted the doctor’s opinion due to internal inconsistencies and because his opinions regarding Minnick’s ability to bend and twist were unsupported by the record. But they were supported by the record, the judges pointed out. They remanded the case for further proceedings.
 

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