Monday, October 4, 2010

Northern California Judges Rule in More Social Security Disability Cases

President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act.
Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
This blog covered four Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cases on Wednesday.  As previously noted, these cases involve Step Four of the disability analysis:

At Step Four, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant can continue to perform work he has performed in the past. The ALJ first determines the claimant’s residual functional capacity ("RFC"). That is, "the most [the claimant] can still do despite [his] limitations," based on all relevant evidence in the record. If the RFC assessment indicates that the claimant can perform his past work, the Commissioner will find the claimant not disabled.

Below are four more recent cases:

In Dixon v. Astrue the plaintiff held a series of odd jobs including maintenance work, sanitary work and carpentry.  In 2003, he stopped work claiming a low back injury.  The Commissioner did not dispute that Mr. Dixon was injured, but rather disputed whether the injury claimed was sufficient to prevent him from working.  Mr. Dixon claimed he was in a lot of pain, however, the ALJ disagreed.
The ALJ offered several reasons for this, including: 1) a videotape indicating that Plaintiff could perform heavy work, contrary to his assertions; 2) Waddell’s test results that led at least one of the examining physicians to believe Plaintiff was exaggerating his symptoms; 3) the objective medical evidence, including the opinions of Drs. Miles, Charles and Butowski, that Plaintiff could perform light work; 4) the daily activities listed by Plaintiff’s roommate, Linda Allen; and 5) the fact that Plaintiff has not undergone any aggressive treatment, such as surgery, to alleviate his pain.
 Magistrate Joseph C. Spero found those reasons adequate and affirmed the denial of benefits.

Fuson v. Astrue involved a man who enrolled in the Commissioner's Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS).  PASS provides technical training to disability claimants in order to make them less reliant on SSDI benefits.  In 2000, the Commissioner terminated Mr. Fuson's benefits stating he was no longer disabled, the Northern District for California affirmed the decision, but remanded to the ALJ to determine if Mr. Fuson's benefits for the term he was in PASS were properly calculated.  The ALJ stated benefits were properly calculated, the Appeals Counsel assumed jurisdiction and went through all pay records to find that Mr. Fuson received $37,246.65 and he was entitled to receive $33,329.60 for the four years he was in the program.  It allowed Mr. Fuson to keep the difference.

The plaintiff appealed to the District Court stating that his earnings were not reflective of his work under the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.  Judge Richard Seeborg granted judgment for the Commissioner stating that the Fair Pay Act did not apply since Mr. Fuson was not an employee of the Social Security Administration.  Similarly, the Appeals Counsel's decision was supported by substantial evidence.

In Rodriguez v. Astrue, the claimant worked in various administrative and managerial positions for several years before applying for SSDI on August 15, 2006.  Ms. Rodriguez claimed a variety of physical and mental ailments that precluded her from finding work.  The ALJ concluded the analysis at step four and found that the plaintiff "could perform a number of unskilled jobs in the occupations of library aide, cafeteria worker, and laundry worker...."  Ms. Rodriguez disagreed and stated that testimony of her treating psychologist indicated she had a lower residual functioning capacity and the ALJ should have ordered a neurological exam to resolve any disputes in the testimony.  Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong disagreed

In Zaidi v. Astrue, the Commissioner made a benefit determination for the plaintiff and did not give him a right to appeal.  The plaintiff appealed anyway and the Commissioner treated that as a "request to reopen proceedings" instead of a "request for consideration."  The plaintiff filed an appeal under the Social Secuirty Act, but Chief Magistrate Patricia A. Trumball treated it as a writ of mandamus and then ordered the Commissioner to show cause why it should not be granted.  Judge Truball explained that the Commissioner has a duty to either grant or deny the request for reconsideration and, if denied, forward it to an ALJ.  He cannot simply dismiss the action or rename it.

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