Thursday, July 30, 2009

disability - reversal instead of remand

Soto v. Astrue - ED Pa. - July 28, 2009 (24 pp.)

The court reversed and granted benefits outright.

The ALJ finding that claimant can do light work is not supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ improperly gave "considerable weight" to the medical opinions of the examining physician and the over that of the treating physician, accorded only minimal weight, in spite of "voluminous evidence in the record provided by the treating physician" whose opinion was dismissed with a single sentence. The ALJ's explanation for this decision was inadequate and improper, as explained at length in the opinion.

In addition, the hypothetical question to the vocational expert was deficient.

Reversal instead of remand -- When this Court determines that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, it also has the power to reverse and direct an award of benefits. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 43 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984)). The district court should award benefits only when “the administrative record of the case has been fully developed and when substantial evidence on the record as a whole indicates that the claimant is disabled and entitled to benefits.” Podedworny, 745 F.2d at 221-22.

“When faced with such cases, it is unreasonable for a court to give the ALJ another opportunity to consider new evidence concerning the disability because the administrative proceeding would result only in further delay in the receipt of benefits.” Id. at 222; see also Morales, 225 F.3d at 320... In this case the record has been fully developed up to the time of the ALJ’s decision. The record contains extensive evidence from Plaintiff’s treating physicians, particularly notes for three years of treatment, and from Plaintiff’s several hospitalizations and physical therapy sessions. The ALJ held a hearing during which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified.

Based on the analysis in the previous section, this Court has concluded that the opinion of treating physician, which concluded Plaintiff was unable to work, should be given substantial weight. Furthermore, although this Court concluded that the ALJ did not properly consider the impact Plaintiff’s necessary treatment will have on his ability to work, the vocational expert did testify on that issue, concluding that Plaintiff would be unemployable if he continued with the course of treatments he had followed for the past several years.

Given the well-developed record, no additional information is necessary to determine Plaintiff’s eligibility for benefits and thus there is no reason to remand this case to the ALJ for further consideration. Thus, this Court finds, based on the opinion of the primary treating physician, the medical evidence from other treating physicians, the responses of the vocational expert, and the credible testimony of Plaintiff, that Plaintiff is disabled. As such, this Court will award Plaintiff disability benefits.

UC - voluntary quit - conscious intention to quit

Ponce v. UCBR - July 30, 2009 - Cmwlth. Court - unreported memorandum decision

The Court reversed the UCBR and held that claimant did not quit his job but rather was terminated by the employer for reasons which did not constitute willful misconduct.

Claimant was absent for several days following an alcohol overdose, brought on by a heated confrontation with the employer. Anything he might have said to the contrary to his wife while intoxicated cannot be used against him. "Statements made to one’s spouse while intoxicated do not constitute a resignation of employment. Accordingly, Claimant did not demonstrate a clear intent to resign his employment."

Moreover, the "Employer’s actions demonstrate that even if Employer believed that Claimant quit [his job] Employer did not accept his resignation but rather, continued to consider him an employee....Claimant’s testimony, also uncontroverted, established that when Lentz was able to speak to Claimant personally, his first question was when Claimant would be available to return to work. These comments are those of an employer anxious for a sick or injured employee to return to work, not those of an employer who believes a disgruntled employee has quit. Because Employer did not accept Claimant’s alleged resignation, it had no operative effect. Therefore, Claimant did not voluntarily quit."

The court found, rather, that the employer fired claimant when they told claimant that they did not want him to return to work when he was released from the hospital. This occurred three days after Claimant’s alleged resignation. During that three-day period, [employer] had consistently treated Claimant as an employee, never indicating that Employer accepted his resignation. Accordingly, it was the decision of the employer committee that caused Claimant’s separation from employment.... Employer did not contend that Claimant was ineligible by reason of his willful misconduct, and the Referee made no finding in that regard. Accordingly, the issue is not before us."