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Gutierrez v. Colvin: SSDI Appeals

In Gutierrez v. Colvin, a Social Security Disability Insurance case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, there was no question claimant could lift no more than five pounds.  She could also not lift her right arm above her shoulder, but her left arm was perfectly fine.

gavel211When she first applied for SSDI benefits, her application was denied. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as the vast majority of all applications are denied.  Once the U.S. Social Security Administration denied her application, she took her first step in the appeals process.

The first step in the SSDI appeals process, or the appeals process for a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application is to either go online and fill out a request for reconsideration, or to complete several forms by hand and turn them in at your local Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review or SSA service center.  While the laws allow you to do this for yourself, as is recommended by SSA, this is a good time to consult with a lawyer to see if he or she can represent you in your request for reconsideration motion and appeal before an administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing as necessary.

As our Boston Social Security disability lawyers can explain, there is a good chance your request for reconsideration will also likely be denied.  This appeal is designed to involve a review by other employees at the SSA office. These other employees are at the same pay grade as the employees who denied your application, so it is considered a peer review process.  It is extremely rare for anyone to get a reversal at this stage, since it would have to be a co-worker saying that the original reviewer made a mistake, and that just doesn’t happen.

At this point, claimant appealed again and request her hearing before the ALJ.  At this hearing, ALJ heard testimony from a vocational expert (VE).  The VE is an employee who works for SSA and is supposed to be an expert on what jobs exist in the both the local and the national economy, and what the physical requirements of each job may be.  He or she will then use a book known as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) to determine if there is a job claimant can do regardless of any injuries or illnesses.

The VE will typically testify as an expert witness and not a fact witness, since he or she is not given the facts of the case beforehand.  This means that the VE is asked a series of hypothetical questions based upon claimant’s claimed disabilities and the DOT.  In this case, he said claimant could work as a cashier, even though the DOT says a cashier requires frequent lifting.  ALJ found claimant not to be disabled based upon this opinion.  Claimant appealed, and on appeal, the court affirmed the denial of benefits, finding that ALJ did not abuse his discretion when fashioning an order in this case.

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

Additional Resources:

Gutierrez v. Colvin, November 29, 2016, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Worker Taxed Thousands for Social Security Disability Benefits He Never Received, June 21, 2016, Boston SSDI Lawyer Blog