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7th Circuit affirms denial of disability benefits

April 25, 2018

A man who was has been trying for more than 11 years to obtain Social Security disability benefits failed to convince a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that he was wrongly denied benefits.

Kirk Stephens first applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits, asserting a disability onset date of January 5, 2007. Stephens claimed he had been disabled by diabetes, kidney disease, knee and back pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis and obesity. He had worked as a taxi dispatcher and security guard for 15 years before claiming disability.

Stephens’ initial request for disability was denied in 2011, after which the district court reversed and remanded for a new hearing. A different ALJ in 2014 found that despite his diagnoses, Stephens had the functional capacity to work in a sedentary position such as security guard or taxi dispatcher. That decision was affirmed in the Indiana Northern District court, prompting this appeal.

The 7th Circuit found no error or abuse of discretion, affirming the denial of benefits in Kirk W. Stephens v. Nancy A. Berryhill, 16-4003. The panel rejected Stephens’ arguments that the ALJ erred by improperly evaluating his obesity when determining the aggregate impact of his impairments; finding that the record lacked medical opinion evidence as to his excessive sleepiness; and failing to incorporate all of Stephens’ impairments and consider their combined impact to measure his residual functional capacity.

“The ALJ’s decision to deny benefits was based on substantial evidence,” Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, sitting by designation from the Northern District of Illinois, concluded for the panel.

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