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Nash Attorney “Fighting Irish” Produce District Court Wins: Insight from Tom Nash

February 3, 2017

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we thought you might like to know how the “Fighting Irish” here at Nash Disability Law are fighting for your rights. In the past several weeks, judges of the United States District Court sided with us, our clients, and our position to the effect that the SSA ALJs were in error in the manner in which they handled three disability hearings of our clients.

Among the hundreds of NDL success stories in recent months, the one involving attorney John Darragh of our office with the man we will call “Richard” sticks with me the most. Social Security disability claimants need independent judges. And we accept the notion that reasonable minds can differ as to how to view a given set of facts, so that it would be wrong to criticize judges just because we do not like the result.  The recent overreaching of President Trump, for example, in criticizing the independent judiciary was wrong. So what does one make of what happened to our client, Richard? 

Unfortunately, the brutal result for Richard can only be described as a failure in the ALJ hiring, training and overall orientation associated with the current Social Security disability system.

Richard previously worked as a construction worker and a telemarketer. In 2007 he was admitted to the emergency room and diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a very serious, misunderstood, and debilitating mental illness.  He was having delusions and very disruptive paranoid obsessions, and his conditions prevented him from being able to hold a job. In 2013, he applied for SSI benefits, but was turned down by a Social Security Administrative Law Judge.

However, neither Richard nor Nash Disability Law would give up. We appealed the SSA’s decision on two grounds: (1) the ALJ did not properly consider the opinions of Richard’s own treating psychiatrists that he was unable to work, and (2) the ALJ’s credibility determination was flawed. Absent the right training and orientation, ALJs whose only experience is working for the government have an unnatural amount of trouble seeing the forest from the trees and affording clients proper respect.  To the extent that my father was a judge, I did indeed learn that clients and people in courtrooms deserve respect. In Richard’s case, however, the given judge did not afford the client the respect and decency associated with arranging an independent medical expert to be present at the hearing and to testify and be subject to cross-examination by the NDL attorney trying to explain Richard’s situation. To  the extent the ALJ somehow failed to understand or disagreed with the opinions of Richard’s mental health professionals, or found something confusing about Richard’s medical records or profile, the answer was not to cynically skip the fairness of independent medical advice and  leap to  goofy conclusions about the importance of minor activities of Richard.  For example, does it not seem ludicrous an ALJ would pretend Richard’s “playing basketball’ was important, and showed he was able to reliably function in the workplace, when the record was clear Richard was so paranoid in this attempt to be human that he had to constantly step on various lines on the court as part of his debilitating mental illness profile?  It was both unnecessary and very wrong for the ALJ to distort this in a manner which hurt Richard. 

On appeal, the United States Magistrate Judge agreed that the ALJ erred in her analysis of both the treating doctors’ opinions and Richard’s credibility. It has been a long and tough battle, but finally this month our client won the right to another day in court, but the latter is still many months away! 

Next, consider the case of an NDL client, “Mr. A.”  He suffers severe impairments including degenerative lumbar disc disease, arthritis in both knees, diabetes, and gout.  He has lost vision entirely in his right eye and has poor vision in his left eye as a result of his diabetes. Mr. A previously worked as a convenience store clerk, but due to his declining vision he is no longer able to do this work. 

After his disability hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that Mr. A. was not disabled and could return to his old work.  However, during the hearing, the ALJ did not even discuss whether or not good vision was important to tasks such as identifying customer purchases or making change. The judge did not take any testimony about the specific vision requirements for a cashier.  Appealing this decision to the U.S. District Court, our NDL attorney Jyoti Raval vigorously argued that the ALJ did not properly consider Mr. A’s vision, and violated SSA’s own rules and regulations by not examining the job demands of a cashier. The court agreed, and Mr. A. will get a new hearing.

Last, but certainly not least, NDL client “Ms. B.” suffers from a long list of physical and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder with panic attacks, and severe migraine headaches.  Her health problems completely interfere with her ability to sustain full-time work day in and day out.  In 2014, she was denied disability benefits by an ALJ. Again, we appealed this decision because we believed that the ALJ ruled capriciously, and contrary to the facts of the case. The ALJ dismissed the supporting opinions of Ms. B’s two psychiatrists, and instead credited the opinion of one doctor who hadn’t even examined her! Finally, just last month, after nearly three years of effort, the Court agreed with us and sent Ms. B’s case back for a new hearing. When the new hearing occurs, we’ll be right there beside her to continue fighting for her rights.

To learn more about how the disability process works and what the “Fighting Irish” at Nash Disability Law can do for you, visit our website at nashdisabilitylaw.com