Denial of disability benefits premature, 7th Circuit rules

An Indiana man who sustained long-lasting brain injuries after he was struck in the head with a barstool was improperly denied total Social Security disability benefits, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Kyle Alaura claimed a variety of disabilities from seizures and prolonged blank stares to severe light sensitivity that followed a craniotomy required to remove part of his brain and insert a metal plate in his skull after his injury. An administrative law judge determined Alaura could perform certain light work and therefore denied his Social Security claim for total disability.

“The denial of the application for benefits, and the affirmation of that denial by the district court, were premature,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the panel in Kyle D. Alaura v. Carolyn W. Colvin, 15-1727. “The judgment is reversed with directions to remand the case to the Social Security Administration for further consideration of Alaura’s application for benefits.”

The panel held that the ALJ failed to consider Alaura’s physical condition, diagnoses and claims of disability in their totality nor order evaluations that could have provided a basis for a decision. The decision was affirmed by Chief Judge Philip P. Simon in the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division.

Posner also took exception to estimates of available job statistics included in the denial that he said appeared to be fabrications. He noted the Circuit Court has cautioned about this in several prior opinions, and he ridiculed a conclusion that Alaura could perform one of the estimated 200,000 “addresser” jobs nationwide.

“According to the (Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 1991), an ‘addresser’ is someone who addresses by hand or typewriter, envelopes, cards, advertising literature, packages and similar items for mailing,” Posner wrote. “… It’s hard to believe that, as the vocational expert testified in this case, there are 200,000 people in the United States for whom this is a full-time job. And does anybody use a typewriter anymore?”

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