7th Circuit remands disability benefits denial

July 27, 2016

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found an administrative law judge had improperly cherry picked a man’s medical record and reversed the denial of his disability benefits.

Mikeal G. Cole Jr. severely hurt his left wrist in 2000 while working as a welder, but eventually returned to work as a foreman in a factory. In 2008, he fell off a 10-foot ladder and landed on his right arm. He has since experienced significant and lasting pain in his right arm, despite therapy and surgeries.

After his workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits ran out, he applied for Social Security disability benefits, claiming his disability began with the fall off the ladder. He was examined by several physicians and medical professionals, and also a couple reviewed his file without seeing him. Most of the medical professionals concluded he was either disabled or would be severely limited in what he could do.

During this time, he was also diagnosed with swollen lymph nodes throughout his body, which also caused severe pain.

The administrative law judge denied his application, primarily based on the timing of his application – waiting until his unemployment benefits ran out. The District Court affirmed.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Judge Richard Posner, who often authors disability benefits opinions for the court, wrote. “When receiving unemployment benefits Cole didn’t need disability benefits, and probably wouldn’t have expected to be allowed to receive both types of government benefits at once, as receipt of unemployment benefits would imply ability to work.”

The ALJ also noted that Cole essentially had no treatment for nearly two years, but never inquired why. During that time, Cole had no health insurance. She also ignored some medical experts’ testimony and appeared to be “cherry picking the medical record – which is improper.”

The appeals court sent the case back to the Social Security Administration to reconsider Cole’s application.  The case is Mikeal G. Cole Jr. v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, 15-3883.


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