7th Circuit remands disability case over ALJ’s findings

The United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a case to the Social Security Administration after finding the administrative law judge’s credibility analysis was flawed.

Kathy Stark had applied for disability benefits due to her degenerative disc disease in 2009, but was denied. The ALJ said she should be able to work six hours of an eight hour day and still perform her duties, despite what she said was debilitating back pain. Stark appealed to the appeals court saying the ALJ misconstrued her testimony about her pain, used boilerplate language to justify it, and disregarded her work history.

Circuit Court Judge Daniel A. Manion wrote all three points of Stark’s arguments were valid. He said the ALJ failed to consider objective evidence that supported Stark’s claims of disabling pain, including diagnoses of radiculopathy and degenerative disc disorder, as well as strong pain medication and multiple surgeries.

Also, testimony of severe pain cannot be disregarded just because it is not supported by objective medical evidence.

The ALJ also used boilerplate language which, while not an automatic remand, meant that the ALJ was basing Stark’s credibility finding on her ability to work. The ALJ first considered what Stark could do before what she couldn’t do.

Finally, Manion said the ALJ disregarded Stark’s work history. A claimant with good work record is entitled to substantial credibility when claiming inability to work because of a disability, and Stark had that. She had several operations to try to continue to work, and experienced significant pain while trying to work.

The case is Kathy Ann Stark v. Carolyn W. Colvin, 15-2352.


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