A bipolar woman’s application for disability benefits will be reconsidered after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded an administrative law judge failed to consider her treating psychiatrist’s opinions in its denial.
Tara Crump, who has a long history of mental health impairments, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after being hospitalized for mood swings in 2010. Over the few years that followed, her symptoms progressively worsened, and medical professionals considered Crump to have “serious impairment.”
By 2013, Crump was again hospitalized for “hostile” and “aggressive” behavior that led to a diagnosis of acute psychosis. She experienced hallucinations, bizarre behavior, disorganized speech, insomnia, attention impairment, and decreased concentration. Crump’s behavior was so severe that the hospital obtained a court order to extend her stay beyond 72 hours and medicate her involuntarily.
After three weeks of inpatient treatment, Crump was discharged and began seeing psychiatrist Sajja Babu, who observed her to have severely impaired functioning based on her inability to follow through with tasks, understand the consequences of her decisions and struggles with interacting appropriately with others.
In the next two years, Crump was arrested for fighting and shoplifting. She also became homeless and moved to a shelter due to having no means to support herself. Crump’s psychiatrist attributed the downturns to her continued struggles with mental illness and concluded she had no useful ability to function in following work rules, managing stress, maintaining attention or concentration or fulfilling job instructions.
An administrative law judge denied Crump’s application for disability benefits, finding that while her impairments were severe, she was not disabled. He concluded that Crump had moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, which were offset by another psychiatrist’s opinion that she was attentive, persistent and focused.
The ALJ attributed little weight to Babu’s opinions, finding them to be inconsistent. Thus, the ALJ found Crump could perform light work limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks with few workplace changes due to her concentration issues from her bipolar disorder. The district court affirmed, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the decision in Tara Crump v. Andrew M. Saul, 18-3491.
“Beyond disregarding the (vocational expert’s) opinion in response to the second hypothetical, the ALJ gave short shrift to the medical opinions of Dr. Babu as Crump’s treating psychiatrist. By itself, the ALJ’s decision to discount Dr. Babu’s views might not be cause for vacating the decision, but when combined with the ALJ’s disregard of the highly relevant opinion of the VE—that an individual with Crump’s limitations who needed to be off task 20% of the time was not employable — the resulting RFC formulation does not hold up,” Circuit Judge Michael Scudder wrote for the panel.
“The ALJ’s RFC analysis did not say enough either to accommodate or rule out what the VE’s testimony and the medical record otherwise made clear — that Crump’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace pose a significant hurdle for her to stay on task at work,” the panel continued. “Merely limiting Crump to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with few workplace changes was not enough to address her limitations and ensure that she could maintain the concentration and effort necessary to function in a workplace and otherwise sustain employment.”
The appeals court thus sent Crump’s case back to the Social Security Administration for reconsideration of her application.