Curvin v. Colvin: Credibility Determinations in Disability Cases

Curvin v. Colvin, an appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, involved claimant who filed for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. In March 2010, claimant applied for disability benefits after becoming disabled in January of 2009. Her disabilities included glaucoma, trouble sleeping, thyroid disease, knee pain and hypertension.

medicaldoctor.jpgSocial Security Administration (SSA), the federal agency charged with oversight of social security disability benefits, denied claimant’s application. Claimant then went through the five-step review process before SSA granted her a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

In August of 2011, after a hearing, ALJ determined claimant was not disabled within the meaning of SSDI guidelines and denied her appeal. His first finding when he denied claimant’s appeal was his finding she had not engaged in gainful employment since onset of her disability. He then found her glaucoma was a severe impairment, but her other stated impairment were not severe in his opinion, based on evidence submitted during her hearing.

He then found, based upon evidence submitted, she did not have single impairment, or set of impairments with a combined severity equivalent to a listed impairment. As our Boston disability attorneys can explain, a listed impairment is one that should qualify claimant for disability if established by sufficient evidence. If there is no listed impairment, claimant must prove a combination of other impairments with severity of a listed impairment.

ALJ then found she had a residual functioning capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work activities, with the exception of having limited peripheral vision on her right side as a result of her glaucoma. Interestingly, ALJ concluded, while her impairments could be of a severity to allow her to qualify for SSDI benefits, her allegations of her symptoms, limitations, and level of pain and other discomfort were not credible. He based this on evidence submitted by two treating physicians and an agency doctor.

The peripheral vision limitation prevented her form working around heavy machinery, according to her treating ophthalmologist, but past work history involved working as a personal health care worker. This, he found, was not related to working with heavy machinery, so, in his opinion, this one limitation was not a problem, and SSA guidelines consider personal healthcare work to be a medium exertion job.

Claimant appealed her denial to the District Court. In this intermediary appeal, judges concluded ALJ did not explain why her testimony as to pain and discomfort was not credible. This court held ALJ to build a logical bridge between evidence and his findings, and they reserved and remanded her appeal for an order consistent with its opinion. SSA appealed this reversal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

On appeal, this court looked at the issue of whether or not ALJ was required to make a credibility determination at each step on the process. The court concluded this was not required under disability law. For this reason, Court of Appeals judges concluded ALJ had not erred in only making a credibility determination at one step in the process and was not required to make a determination again, as this would be redundant. Court of Appeals reversed District Court and reinstated ALJ’s earlier denial.

If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability benefits in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

More Blog Entries:
Congress Ready to Fight Over SSDI Funding, Jan. 18, 2015, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog

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