Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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After voluntarily leaving his job due to back problems, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration found that he was not disabled and denied his application. Plaintiff sought judicial review and the district court1 affirmed. He appealed, arguing that the agency’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, explaining that when reviewing the denial of disability insurance benefits, the court decides whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Here, Plaintiff claims that his treating physician’s opinion was entitled to deference. However, the court explained, that under the current regulations, however, treating physicians are not entitled to special deference. And although Plaintiff may disagree with the ALJ’s conclusion, it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. View "Jason Bowers v. Kilolo Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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The government alleges that Medicare overpaid Plaintiff and his medical practice approximately $5.31 million. While the third level of administrative review, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), was pending, Medicare began to recover the overpaid funds by withholding new reimbursements. Plaintiff argued that recovery prior to an ALJ hearing and decision violates procedural due process. He moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent Medicare from recovering payments prior to the ALJ decision. The district court denied the preliminary injunction and Plaintiff appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of the preliminary injunction finding that Plaintiff has not satisfied the requirements for a preliminary injunction. Further, he has not shown that he is likely to prevail on the merits of his procedural due process claim nor that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm. The court explained that if an audit shows that a provider has been overpaid, Medicare may seek to recover the overpaid funds. Moreover, if a Medicare contractor determines a provider has been overpaid, the provider may challenge that decision through administrative and judicial review.   Here, Plaintiff’s interest in avoiding erroneous recoupment outweighs the government’s interest in prompt repayment. However, there is no evidence in the record that any delay in recovery against Plaintiff will cause long-term harm to Medicare or prevent Medicare from providing services to other beneficiaries. Further, Plaintiff’s claims of irreparable harm are undercut by his apparent failure to try to ease the burdens of recoupment. View "Gurpreet Padda v. Xavier Becerra" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed a judgment of the district court upholding an agency decision to deny her application for social security disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff argued that the administrative law judge (ALJ) who denied her claim erred by giving “little weight” to the opinion of one of her treating physicians.  The Eighth Circuit concluded that the ALJ permissibly weighed the evidence and affirmed the decision. The court held that the agency’s decision is supported by substantial evidence. On the record as a whole, the ALJ was justified in declining to give controlling weight to the conclusory opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician.   The court reasoned that the doctor’s opinion was entitled to relatively little evidentiary value on its face because it was rendered on a check-box and fill-in-the-blank form. Further, the doctor’s opinion is also in tension with her own treatment notes. The treatment notes refer only to “evidence of elevated blood pressure levels and occasional skin abnormalities,” while observing “otherwise normal heart, lungs, and extremities.” Additionally, some of Plaintiff’s daily activities also undermined her doctor’s opinion of severe limitations. View "Deborah Swarthout v. Kilolo Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order upholding the Commissioner's denial of social security disability insurance benefits (DIB). The court concluded that substantial evidence supported the determination that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal Listing 11.09B or 12.02. In this case, plaintiff's mental impairment did not cause at least two marked limitations or one extreme limitation, as required by the paragraph B criteria for Listing 12.02. Furthermore, although plaintiff's medical records revealed several minor deficiencies, such as a subtle tremor in her left hand and mild executive dysfunction, those records did not indicate a marked limitation in physical functioning and one of the four areas of mental functioning as required by Listing 11.09B. View "Schmitt v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of supplemental security income benefits to claimant, concluding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's determination that claimant was capable of performing certain work available in the national economy. In this case, the ALJ provided good reasons for giving little weight to claimant's testimony regarding his limitations and to his treating physician's opinion on the subject. Furthermore, perhaps the most persuasive medical reason the ALJ offered in support of his finding as to claimant's residual functional capacity is the relatively conservative course of treatment that he undertook to deal with the pain. Finally, the ALJ did not accept the consulting physician's opinion in its entirety. View "Pierce v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order affirming the Social Security Administration's denial of plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Plaintiff filed a claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income based on her diagnoses of mood disorders, lupus, and fibromyalgia, among other ailments.The court concluded that substantial evidence in the record supported the ALJ's denial of plaintiff's claim for benefits. In this case, the ALJ did not err by relying exclusively on the lack of objective evidence supporting plaintiff's fibromyalgia diagnosis to deny benefits. Rather, the ALJ noted that objective findings did not support her subjective allegations of disabling symptoms. Likewise, the court rejected plaintiff's claims that the ALJ erred in disregarding evidence of her moderate-severe musculoskeletal pain and widespread arthralgia, as well as the multidimensional health assessment questionnaire indicating that she had difficulty performing daily tasks. The court explained that there was substantial evidence in the record for the ALJ to focus on the "normal" reports and findings by plaintiff's treating physicians. Even if the ALJ made some misstatements in his order, the errors were harmless.The court also concluded that the district court did not err in failing to develop the record to clarify the number of tender points where any inconsistences were harmless error. The court further concluded that the ALJ's credibility determination and weight assigned to the testimony was supported by undisputed facts that plaintiff suffered from addiction, smoked, and failed to follow her treatment advice. Finally, the ALJ properly considered plaintiff's allegations of pain and properly weighed the decisions of her treating physicians and state agency consultant's opinions. View "Grindley v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the ALJ's termination of plaintiff's disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, because substantial evidence does not support the termination of benefits. In this case, plaintiff alleged that her disability began in July 2012 due to degenerative disc disease (DDD), bulging disc, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).The court concluded that substantial evidence on the record as a whole does not support the finding that plaintiff's pain significantly improved to the point where she would no longer miss two days or more of work per month. In this case, the ALJ erroneously discounted plaintiff's allegations regarding her pain and also erroneously discounted other physicians' opinions. Finally, the court concluded that substantial evidence did not support the residual functioning capacity finding. The court remanded with instructions to return the case to the Social Security Administration for a new medical-improvement evaluation. View "Koch v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order upholding the Social Security Administration's denial of plaintiff's benefits claim, because substantial evidence supports the finding that the SSA has met its burden. The court concluded that the Vocational Expert relied on sufficient evidence, such as plaintiff's own testimony, when he formed his expert opinion. The court also concluded that the evidence supports the ALJ's finding that plaintiff can transfer her job skills to new sedentary positions, such as the suggested positions of order clerk, receptionist, or appointment clerk. Furthermore, there is sufficient evidence in the record to show that plaintiff possessed job skills that would transfer to other sedentary occupations. View "Swedberg v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental social security income to plaintiff. The court held that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision to give little weight to plaintiffs' treating physicians because their opinions were vague and imprecise and did not provide any function-by-function analysis. Furthermore, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to give greater weight to the medical consultants' opinions than to the treating physicians' opinions.Finally, the vocational expert's answer to the first hypothetical question, regarding whether a hypothetical person—who could lift amounts that plaintiff could, sit and stand for periods that she could, and work in a workplace devoid of fumes that irritated her—could work, is substantial evidence because it is a response to a hypothetical with the impairments accepted as true by the ALJ and reflected in the residual functional capacity (RFC). However, the vocational expert's answer to the second hypothetical question, regarding whether a hypothetical person with the impairments plaintiff alleged could work, was not substantial evidence because the hypothetical person in the second hypothetical did not have the same RFC as plaintiff. View "Kraus v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of social security benefits to plaintiffs, rejecting plaintiffs' claim that the ALJs who denied their claims were not properly appointed under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. The court held that plaintiffs' unexhausted claims are foreclosed by Davis v. Saul, 963 F.3d 790 (8th Cir. 2020), cert. granted, 2020 WL 6551772 (Nov. 9, 2020) (No. 20-105). View "Smith v. Saul" on Justia Law