Friday, September 11, 2009

social security - disability - obesity - findings/reasons

Diaz v. Commissioner or Social Security - 3rd Circuit - August 12, 2009

Claimant's case was remanded because of the failure of the ALJ to properly evaluate the effect of her morbid obesity on her ability to work.

The ALJ’s ruling is not supported by substantial evidence because, contrary to SocialSecurity Ruling (“SSR”) 00-3p, no consideration was given to Diaz’s severe obesity. The ALJ acknowledged this impairment at step two but failed to consider its impact, in combination with her other impairments, at step three, as required.

SSR 00-3p replaced an automatic designation of obesity as a Listed impairment, based on a claimant’s height and weight, with an individualized inquiry, focused on the combined effect of obesity and other severe impairments afflicting the claimant: “We will also find equivalence if an individual has multiple impairments, including obesity, no one of which meets or equals the requirements of a listing, but the combination of impairments is equivalent in severity to a listed impairment.” Although SSR 00-3p was superseded by SSR 02-1p, SSR 02-1p did not materially amend SSR 00-3p. See Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 n.4 (3d Cir. 2005).

SSR 00-3p instructs that “obesity may increase the severity of coexisting or related impairments to the extent that the combination of impairments meets the requirements of a listing. This is especially true of musculoskeletal, respiratory, and cardiovascular impairments. It may also be true for other coexisting or related impairments, including mental disorders.” Hence, an ALJ must meaningfully consider the effect of a claimant’s obesity, individually and in combination with her impairments, on her workplace function at step three and at every subsequent step.

In Burnett, the court held that an ALJ must clearly set forth the reasons for his decision. 220 F.3d at 119. Conclusory statements that a condition does not constitute the medical equivalent of a listed impairment are insufficient. The ALJ must provide a “discussion of the evidence” and an “explanation of reasoning” for his conclusion sufficient to enable meaningful judicial review. Id. at 120; see Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 505 & n.3 (3d Cir. 2004).

The court also remanded on the basis of the ALJ's failure to give proper wieght and consideration to the treating physician's opinion, which was well supported by the evidence.