Court: Judge Reviewing Social Security Disability Benefits Claim Must Consider Each of the Claimant's Alleged Impairments - Black v. Astrue

April 21,2009
imgpsh_fullsize (15)

In order to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, a person must generally be unable to work for one year or more due to a physical or mental impairment or a combination thereof. As experienced Social Security disability lawyers representing clients in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we understand that it’s often not one particular impairment, but the combined debilitating effects of a number of impairments that prevent many people from being able to work. In Black v. Astrue, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal explains that a judge considering a benefits claim must take into account each of a claimant’s alleged impairments in determining whether the claimant is disabled and therefore eligible for benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff Kristina Black’s claim for Child’s Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, in which she alleged disability as a result of depressive disorder with psychotic features, substance abuse, obesity, chronic back pain and anxiety disorder. Following an administrative hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled for benefits purposes. Specifically, the ALJ determined that although Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments in the form of major depressive disorder and substance abuse, she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform her previous job as a dishwasher as well as other jobs existing in significant numbers such as night cleaner.
On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit reversed the ALJ’s decision, finding that the judge failed to consider whether Plaintiff’s anxiety disorder also constitutes a severe impairment. Although Plaintiff alleged disability based in part on anxiety disorder and her treating physician diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from this impairment, the ALJ disregarded the diagnosis without sufficient reasoning, according to the court.
“Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s conclusion that the anxiety disorder is not a severe impairment in the absence of any mention of the disorder,” the court ruled. Furthermore, the court concluded that it could not determine whether this error was harmless because the ALJ did not explain the reasoning for rejecting the evidence and therefore the court was unable to determine whether the ALJ would have found Plaintiff to have retained adequate RFC to perform jobs available in the national economy even if the anxiety disorder was taken into account.
As a result, the court reversed the ALJ’s decision and remanded the case back to the ALJ, instructing the ALJ to consider all of the relevant evidence.

The key to a successful benefits claim is the proper preparation of an application and presentation of medical evidence of disability whether it is based on one or more physical or mental impairments. An experienced disability attorney can assist in this process by listening carefully to a client’s medical problems, educational background and job history in order to determine the best way to approach the individual disability claim. Furthermore, the lawyer will gather the medical documentation and other evidence necessary to support the claim, follow up with the SSA to ensure that it has the required information and represent the client on appeal, if necessary.