Submitting "New" Evidence on Appeal in Social Security Disability Cases - Hood v. Commissioner of Social Security

May 19,2009
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In Hood v. Commissioner of Social Security, the District Court for the Northern District of New York sheds some light on important issues regarding both conflicting medical evidence as well as that submitted late in the Social Security disability claim process.
John Hood filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits, asserting that he was unable to work due to a respiratory impairment. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the claim. Following an administrative hearing in Albany, an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Hood was not disabled because, he retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work and, therefore, a number of jobs currently existing in the national economy.
On appeal, Hood argued that the ALJ improperly discredited his testimony regarding the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of the symptoms related to his impairment. “It is the function of the [SSA] Commissioner, not reviewing courts, to resolve evidentiary conflicts and to appraise the credibility of witnesses, including the claimant” the court noted, quoting the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s 1983 ruling in Carroll v. Secretary of Health and Human Services. “If there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner’s findings, the court must uphold the ALJ’s decision to discount a claimant’s subjective complaints of pain.” This, according to the court, is largely because the ALJ has the benefit of directly observing the claimant’s demeanor “and other indicia of credibility.”
In this case, the court found that the medical evidence contradicted Plaintiff’s testimony regarding the debilitating nature of his impairment. This evidence included the opinions of both a consultative examiner and a State Agency consultant, both of whom concluded that Plaintiff’s impairment did not reduce his RFC, except that he should avoid irritants like dust and chemical fumes.
Nevertheless, the court remanded the case back to the ALJ for consideration of other medical evidence presented to the SSA’s Appeals Council following the ALJ’s decision. Specifically, Plaintiff submitted treatment notes and a “medical source statement” from his treating physician indicating that Plaintiff’s symptoms were consistent with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a result of his impairment, the physician concluded that Plaintiff could not stand for more than one hour during an eight hour shift and could not perform daily activities such as shopping, walking on rough surfaces and using public transportation.

Although the Appeals Council declined to review the “new” evidence because the notes and statement were compiled after the ALJ’s decision, the court rejected this decision, stating “medical evidence generated after an ALJ’s decision cannot be deemed irrelevant solely because of timing.” The “new” evidence contradicted other medical opinions in the record and was consistent with Plaintiff’s testimony, according to the court, and therefore the Appeals Council erred in declining to consider it.
While we do our best to obtain the evidence before the hearing, when it will do the most good; we too have occasionally submitted new evidence with our Appeals Council arguments. What makes this case unusual, and what we cannot tell without looking further, is why the Appeals Council specifically rejected the new records. But it is good to see a local court reminding Social Security that they should be considering additional evidence when it is relevant.
Despite the remand, Hood would have saved time and money by submitting the proper medical evidence earlier in the claim. While this is not always possible – and evidence may be submitted before the ALJ makes a determination or even form part of the appeal to the Appeals Council – an experienced Social Security attorney can assist a claimant by helping to obtain the evidence necessary to support the claim as quickly as possible.