Monday, September 26, 2005

disability - ALJ failure to follow remand instructions

Lok v. Barnhart - ED Pa. - September 19, 2005
Plaintiff is 55 year-old woman w/chronic back pain and some mental impairments, unable to speak English, and whose prior work was as a dishwasher.
Plaintiff appealed an adverse ALJ decision to the Appeals Council (AC), which remanded the case to the ALJ after finding that there was not substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision that the Plaintiff was not disabled.  The remand order directed the ALJ to "obtain additional, updated evidence" and to recontact the treating physician for additional evidence and clarification of his opinion about disability.  On remand, the ALJ was unable to get information from the treating physician, who was uncooperative.  The ALJ did not seek any consultative exams.
Plaintiff appealed second adverse ALJ decision, which AC this time affirmed.  The Court reversed and remanded.  It found that "the ALJ's procedures were not consistent with the remand order" and that the ALJ's findings were not based on substantial evidence.
The Court held that, under the circumstances, SSA regs and the specific AC remand order required the ALJ to "seek the necessary information from alternative sources", i.e., consultative physicians.  "The ALJ's task was to secure new believable evidence."  The Court remanded the case, holding that the record "does not necessarily show Plaintiff is disabled, and reversal is not warranted."
Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services- Gettysburg