Hill v. Colvin: Social Security Disability Appeals

Hill v. Colvin, a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, deals with appeals from a Social security Disability Insurance (SSDI) denial of benefits at a hearing before an administrative law judge.

1078874_word_work_on_the_dicesThe claimant, who was 56 years old at the time of the appeal, worked for more than a dozen years at a steel factory. She was responsible for lifting and transporting steel sheets that were extremely heavy. According to court records, some of the steel sheets weighed as much as 100 pounds.

After years of doing this hard manual labor, her body was not able to keep up with the demand of the job, and she applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.   In her initial application for benefits, she claimed that her disability had an onset date in July 2011. She included eight specific medical conditions, including the total hip replacement she already had, the total shoulder reconstruction her doctor said she needed to have, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a ruptured disc, a spinal fusion, knee troubles, a broken hand, and tendonitis.

As part of the application process, she was required to see various doctors who detailed her condition, and one of them noted that, after the hip replacement surgery, she walked with a limp and had trouble getting around. Her initial application was denied, and she was eventually granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the ALJ hearing, she testified she could no longer perform manual labor after the hip replacement surgery and was going to stop working for the steel plant.   She also said she could not sleep at night due to the pain and was taking aspirin and NSAIDs. Prior to that, she was taking prescription painkillers but stopped because her doctor was worried she would be addicted to the opioids. She also admitted to a history of family alcoholism and her own heavy drinking in the past, and that may have been the reason her doctor was concerned about addiction.

There was additional testimony about her ability to lift and perform housework, and she testified she could lift objects up to 15 pounds and stand with frequent brakes. At the Social Security disability hearing, a vocational expert (VE) testified that, while she could not longer do her past work if she could not lift more than ten pounds, she could perform other work including unskilled light duty work that did not require frequent heavy lifting. For this reason, she was declared not disabled, and her application was again denied.

She appealed this denial based upon grounds that ALJ discredited her testimony without providing sufficient evidence in the record as to why she was allegedly exaggerating her pain and inability to work. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that ALJ’s failure to credit claimant’s testimony was not supported by evidence and found that the error was not harmless. For this reason, the court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their opinion.

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

Additional Resources:

Hill v. Colvin, December 3, 2015, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Hanson v. Colvin: A Critical Look by a Court of Appeals on a Denial of Benefits, August 14, 2014, Boston Disability Lawyers Blog.

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