Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Crump applied for social security disability benefits based on her long history of numerous mental health impairments, including bipolar disorder and polysubstance abuse disorder. An administrative law judge denied benefits, finding that Crump, despite her severe impairments, could perform work limited to simple and repetitive tasks. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The ALJ did not adequately account for Crump’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace in the workplace. An ALJ generally may not rely merely on catch-all terms like “’simple, repetitive tasks’” because there is no basis to conclude that they account for problems of concentration, persistence or pace. In addition, observing that a person can perform simple and repetitive tasks says nothing about whether the individual can do so on a sustained basis. Beyond disregarding the Vocational Expert’s opinion in response to a second hypothetical, the ALJ gave short shrift to the medical opinions of Crump’s treating psychiatrist. View "Crump v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Krell, a former ironworker, applied for Social Security disability benefits. Krell was notified that a vocational expert would testify at his hearing and that Krell had the right to request a subpoena for documents or testimony “that you reasonably need to present your case.” Krell’s counsel requested a subpoena to require the vocational expert to produce documents upon which the expert may rely in forming opinions, including statistics, reports, surveys, summaries, work product, and a description of the methodologies used by publishers or compilers of the statistics. The ALJ did not respond. At the hearing, the ALJ denied the request, reasoning that it had not specified what the documents would show and why these facts could not be shown without a subpoena and that counsel could challenge the testimony post‐hearing. During cross‐examination, the vocational expert stated that to determine available job numbers, he relied on Wisconsin occupational projections produced by the Department of Workforce Development. Krell made no post‐hearing challenge. The ALJ found that Krell was disabled and entitled to benefits, but only as of 2014, rather than 2011. Based on the expert’s testimony, the ALJ concluded that up to 2014, Krell was able to perform work existing in significant numbers in the economy. The Social Security Appeals Council denied review. The district court concluded that the ALJ had erred in denying Krell’s subpoena request. The Seventh Circuit reversed. While Krell’s case was pending, the Supreme Court held (Biestek) that a vocational expert is not categorically required to produce his supporting data. Krell advanced no reason why it was necessary for the expert to produce his underlying sources. View "Krell v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Jozefyk applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, claiming disability based on several conditions, including degenerative changes in his cervical spine, lumbar strain, obesity, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. An ALJ denied benefits. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Jozefyk’s arguments that the ALJ did not establish a valid waiver of attorney representation before allowing Jozefyk to proceed pro se and that the residual functional capacity finding did not account for Jozefyk’s moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace. Jozefyk was sent several Social Security Administration communications, including a publication entitled “Your Right to Representation,” explaining his right to an attorney, organizations that could help him find an attorney, the fee structure, and the benefits of representation. In his request for a hearing, Jozefyk certified: “I do not have a representative. I understand that I have a right to be represented and that if I need representation, the Social Security office or hearing office can give me a list of legal referral and service organizations to assist me in locating a representative.” The ALJ offered to continue the hearing to give Jozefyk more time to find an attorney, but Jozefyk again stated that he wanted to proceed. Jozefyk cited self-reported symptoms that doctors, including his own treating physician, could not confirm. View "Jozefyk v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Since his March 2008, birth, L.D.R. has consistently received medical care in the fields of pediatrics, otolaryngology, pulmonology, psychology, and speech pathology. His mother first sought social security benefits on his behalf when he was one year old. L.D.R.’s health, development, and behavioral issues deteriorated and improved at various times. A child is disabled under social security income rules if the child has a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations” that “has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months,” 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). The Social Security Administration determined that L.D.R. was disabled as of August 2015, just before he enrolled in second grade. The Seventh Circuit rejected a request for retroactive payments and a challenge to the constitutionality of the law prohibiting an award of benefits for a period before the application for benefits. The AuSgust 2015 disability date was well supported in the ALJ’s decision, which considered in particular detail L.D.R.’s various conditions, their history, the treatments he received, and L.D.R.’s reactions to these treatments. The prohibition on pre-application benefits satisfies rational basis scrutiny. View "L.D.R. v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Burmester applied for disability benefits alleging a 2008 onset of her disability. She described degenerative disc disease, pseudo-gout in her left knee, osteoarthritis in both knees and left thumb, a heart condition, and depression. Burmester’s education included one year of technical college; she worked as a hand-packager for many years. The application was denied. At a hearing, Burmester testified that her husband helped her out of bed, did the cooking, cleaning, and went grocery shopping and a friend helped with cleaning. Burmester was able to go to church; out to dinner once a month; use the computer to check her email and social media; and let her dog out. Following a remand, the ALJ again found that Burmester had the residual function capacity to perform light work, and was mentally limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks requiring only simple work-related decisions and no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Burmester could not continue her past relevant work but that a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy that Burmester could perform—such as router, price marker, or routing clerk. The district court and Seventh Circuit upheld the ALJ’s decision. The ALJ did not improperly evaluate Burmester’s credibility, nor erroneously reject the opinions of medical experts. The ALJ’s opinion that Burmester was not disabled was supported by substantial evidence. View "Burmester v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Hernandez filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in December 2016, reporting one sizable asset: a pending workers’ compensation claim valued at $31,000. To place that claim beyond the reach of creditors, she listed it as exempt under section 21 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/21, applicable via 11 U.S.C. 522(b). Two days after filing for bankruptcy, Hernandez settled the claim. Hernandez owed significant sums to three healthcare providers who treated her work-related injuries. The providers objected to her claimed exemption, arguing that 2005 amendments to the Illinois Act enable unpaid healthcare providers to reach workers’ compensation awards and settlements. The bankruptcy court denied the exemption and the district judge affirmed. The Seventh Circuit certified to the Illinois Supreme Court the question: Whether the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended, allows care-provider creditors to reach the proceeds of workers’ compensation claims. The court noted that Section 21 has been interpreted by bankruptcy courts to create an exemption for these assets; 2005 amendments imposed a new fee schedule and billing procedure for care providers seeking remuneration. The Illinois Supreme Court has not addressed the interplay between these competing components of state workers’ compensation law. View "Hernandez v. Marque Medicos Fullerton, LLC" on Justia Law

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DeCamp, age 55, has a history of depression, drug overdoses, and suicidal thoughts. She overdosed on medication three times in October 2007. She attempted suicide and was cutting her legs. She also has a history of alcohol abuse. In 2010 DeCamp complained of headaches, and an MRI revealed a tumor in her pineal gland, which secretes hormones that regulate sleep cycles. A neurosurgeon noted that the mass was benign. The district court affirmed the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The ALJ had made an adverse credibility determination and found that DeCamp would be off-task up to 10 percent of the workday. The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the ALJ failed to properly evaluation DeCamp’s limits with concentration, persistence, or pace. The ALJ focused her analysis on the doctors’ bottom-line conclusion that DeCamp was not precluded from working without giving the vocational expert any basis to evaluate all DeCamp’s impairments, including those in concentration, persistence, and pace. View "DeCamp v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Ray lives with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, kidney disease, degenerative disc disease, anxiety, and depression. When his conditions worsened, he began working gradually easier jobs, from janitor to forklift operator to bus monitor for children with special needs, until eventually, he gave up his employment entirely. An ALJ denied Ray’s application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits, finding that Ray was severely impaired by most of his physical conditions, but that the ALJ erroneously evaluated Ray’s symptoms and daily activities, misinterpreted medical evidence, and failed to ask why he skipped some appointments. he could perform his past relevant work as a school bus monitor. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The ALJ erroneously evaluated Ray’s symptoms and daily activities, misinterpreted medical evidence, and failed to ask why he skipped some appointments. Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s conclusion that Ray’s previous job was not a composite job. On remand, the ALJ should revisit her assessment of Ray’s mental impairment View "Ray v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Winsted was 42 years old when he applied for disability benefits, asserting an onset date of October 2010. Although he initially alleged he became disabled in 2005, two prior applications alleging this onset date were denied and deemed administratively final. Winsted suffers from multiple physical impairments, including degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and anxiety, mostly associated with his previous work in hard labor as an industrial truck driver, a highway maintenance worker, and an operating engineer. An ALJ denied benefits, finding that Winsted could work with certain limitations. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit remanded. The ALJ did not adequately explain how the limitations he placed on Winsted’s residual functional capacity accounted for the claimant’s mental difficulties; the ALJ did not consider Winsted’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace. View "Winsted v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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McHenry, a 49-year-old former hair stylist who suffers from several physical and mental disabilities, challenged the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits. The ALJ had concluded that, although McHenry suffers from degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia, she lacked sufficient medical evidence that the conditions were disabling, and that she was not credible about her limitations. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The ALJ erred by failing to have a medical expert review a consequential MRI report. The court rejected arguments that the ALJ improperly determined McHenry’s residual functional capacity by not accounting for McHenry’s anxiety-related limits on social functioning and limits in her ability to sustain concentration because of her medications’ side effects and by discounting McHenry’s credibility. View "McHenry v. Berryhill" on Justia Law