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ALJ’s denial of disability finding for man remanded

June 10, 2019

A man who suffers from severe weekly seizures that leaves him confused and disoriented will have another chance to make his case for disability benefits after the Northern District Court found an administrative law judge’s denial warranted remand.

Justin Harrison applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, claiming seizure disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder, while additionally experiencing hallucinations.

Harrison alleged that he suffered weekly seizures that left him feeling as though he was experiencing an “extremely bad hangover.” Those seizures, which his wife said occurred once a week, would leave Harrison confused and disoriented. His mother, however, testified that the seizures occurred two to three times per week.

The Social Security Administration denied Harrison’s application, and an administrative law judge followed suit, finding that Harrison did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

The ALJ further concluded that although Harrison had moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, he was not disabled at the time of his alleged onset date of March 1, 2013 through December 31, 2016, the date Harrison was last insured.

However, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana concluded the ALJ’s decision must be remanded upon finding that the ALJ did not make a finding as to the frequency and severity of Harrison’s seizures.

“The ‘benefit of the doubt’ the ALJ afforded to Plaintiff did not align with legal precedent requiring the ALJ to trace his reasoning in reaching his conclusions and explain how Plaintiff’s severe seizures were accommodated in the RFC assessment,” Judge William C. Lee wrote for the court. “The ALJ did not explain why Plaintiff’s seizures were a severe impairment yet did not adopt the consistent statements of Plaintiff, his wife, and his mother regarding the frequency and after-effects of those seizures.”

“Moreover, the ALJ did not explain why Plaintiff’s seizures would not take him off-task throughout the workday despite finding that they were a severe impairment,” Lee continued. “While the ALJ found that evidence from Plaintiff, his wife, and his mother that he suffered from seizures at least once weekly was inconsistent with the record, the ALJ did not explain why consistent evidence from three sources that Plaintiff’s seizures and subsequent recovery period caused confusion and disorientation did not result in any necessary off-task time throughout the workday.”

Additionally, the district court concluded that the vocational expert found an individual of Harrison’s age, education and work experience could be off-task for no more than 10 percent of the day, but the ALJ failed to address that issue in its decision.

Harrison appealed that the error was not harmless, and the district court agreed, concluding that it was a “clear error in the ALJ’s decision” that warranted remand.

Among other things, the district court concluded that the ALJ did not evaluate Harrison’s testimony in accord with the appropriate preponderance of the evidence standard outlined in Social Security Regulations, but instead subjected the allegations to improper, stricter standards.

It thus remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion in Harrison v. Commissioner of Social Security, 2:18-cv-00383.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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