Thursday, January 05, 2006

recent ED Pa. disability decisions

Summary judgment granted to SSA in all of the following cases

1. Proffit v. Barnhart - ED Pa. December 30, 2005 -
Plaintiff's medical evidence was not extensive and fairly old. Court upheld ALJ's finding the P's subjective complaints were not credible and not supported by objective medical evidence, citing 20 CFR 404.1529(b), (c)(2) and Hartranft v. Apfel, 131 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 1999)

2. Wright v. Barnhart - ED Pa. - December 28, 2005
The court upheld the ALJ's determination that the claimant's depression was not a severe impairment. Noting the threshold for severity is low, the court nonetheless said that the plaintiff "must still provide evidence sufficient to show that her impairment has a minimal effect of her ability to work." Holding that P here didn’t do so, the court noted that the treating physician's opinion was based "largely on the claimant's own account of her symptoms and limitations." The court also rejected the argument that the ALJ should have asked for further info from the treating physician, holding the there was sufficient evidence on which to make a decision. Finally, the claimant's complaints about pain were discounted because it was handled by "conservative treatment….there was a lack of medical evidence showing that she experienced more than moderate levels of pain or other daily symptoms…"

3. Brubaker v. Barnhart - ED Pa. - December 29, 2005
a) The ALJ adequately developed the record and fulfilled his heightened duty to the pro se claimant.
b) The claimant did not demonstrate good cause for not having presented evidence to the ALJ at the time of the hearing
c) The ALJ properly rejected the treating doctor's opinion on the ultimate issue of employability, which is reserved for SSA
d) The ALJ properly explained his credibility determination -- this is the weakest part of the opinion. The court held that "although indirectly, the ALJ did explain his credibility determination by incorporating the body of his entire decision….Because I can infer from the decision what the ALJ relied upon in making his credibility determination, I find his conclusion…follows the spirit of the law…." Doesn’t the ALJ have to give a more specific reason for a credibility determination.?
e) The hypothetical posed to the VE adequately set out all credibly established limitations.
f) The ALJ considered claimant's impairments in combination.

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services

disability - obesity - Listing 9.09 v. SSR 00-3p

Branson v. Barnhart -- ED Pa. - December 29, 2005

The court ordered this case to be remanded. Plaintiff's claim had been filed while the Listing 9.09 was still in effect, i.e., prior to the effective date of the new SSR 00-3p. The court found merit in Plaintiff's argument that the SSR should not be applied retroactively to pending claims, citing conflicting cases from other circuits. The court found "persuasive those cases which reason that the Adminstration does not have the authority to engage in retroactive rulemaking….without express congressional authorization" and rejected the language of the SSR which states that it applies to cases filed before October 25, 1999, and still pending on that date. The court held that the claim should have been evaluated under Listing 9.09 and remanded the case.

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services