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Gieseke v. Colvin: On SSDI Hearing and Vocational Experts

Gieseke v. Colvin, an appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, involved a claimant who had a long history of low back pain that was aggravated by a workplace injury. The injury occurred in 2006. After completing physical therapy, claimant returned to work with certain activity restrictions. He left work in 2008 and had not worked since that time, when he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with the United States Social Security Administration (SSA).

ct-pet-580319-m.jpgClaimant listed lower back pain, dizziness and problems with one leg as conditions that prevented him from working. During a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), a vocational expert (VE) testified claimant had substantial impairments, including a degenerative disc disease in his spine, obesity, and a history of substance abuse. He also testified that claimant could occasionally lift up to 20 pounds, frequently lift up to 10 pounds, and could sit or stand for up to six hours per day.

He further opined claimant should never be around heights or moving machinery or be required to climb ladders or ropes or scaffolding and would need to use a cane when standing. He could not perform any job related to his past work experience and has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, but it would be impeded by limitations on those types of occupations.

After the hearing, ALJ found claimant not to be disabled and could work as a cashier, security guard, or usher, and that these positions exist in the local economy. This finding was based upon responses to a hypothetical posed to VE.

As our disability attorneys in Boston understand, SSA tends to make it very difficult for unrepresented claimants to get benefits. Most applications are rejected after being filed, and only after a long delay can claimants get a hearing before an ALJ.

Claimant appealed this decision and argued ALJ committed serious error in not giving proper weight to the opinion of his treating physician. His doctor opined claimant was limited to lifting less than 10 pounds even occasionally, could stand for less than two hours per day, and had other restrictions that were far more limiting than those found by ALJ. The doctor found claimant was disabled under SSA guidelines.

On appeal, the court noted that a treating physician’s opinion should be given controlling weight if supported by medically acceptable evidence. The court concluded claimant’s doctor’s opinion was not adequately supported in the record. The record showed a degenerative lumbar condition that had normal alignment and did not require surgery.

There was also evidence from a doctor hired by SSA to perform a review of claimant’s doctor’s finding, and he found that symptoms did not match claimant’s actual condition.
It should be noted that the doctor hired by SSA, the vocational expert hired by SSA, and the ALJ who is employed by SSA are supposed to be basing their opinions and findings upon evidence and with impartiality, yet they are all employed by SSA and commonly find against unrepresented claimants.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Gieseke v. Colvin: On SSI Benefits
, November 6, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
More Blog Entries:

Funding Road Construction on the Backs of the Disabled, July 16, 2014, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyers Blog