Massachusetts Court Discusses Conflicts in Social Security Disability Claim Records

People who are unable to work due to a mental or physical illness may be able to recover Social Security Disability benefits. Whether benefits are granted hinges on whether the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration deems the applicant disabled. In some instances, there will be multiple conflicting sources of information regarding a person’s ability to work. In a recent opinion, a Massachusetts court discussed how such conflicts should be resolved. If you are unable to work due to a mental or physical ailment, you should meet with a Massachusetts Social Security Disability attorney to discuss whether you may be eligible for benefits.

The Plaintiff’s Illnesses and Disability Determination

It is alleged that the claimant suffers from multiple ailments, including depression and back pain, that rendered her unable to work. Before she became disabled, she worked as a respiratory therapist. She applied for Social Security Disability benefits, but the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration determined that she was not disabled and denied her claim. She appealed, arguing in part that the administrative law judge erred in neglecting to resolve a conflict between occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

Resolving Conflicts in Records Pertaining to a Claimant’s Disability

Under the applicable standard, in order to determine that a claimant is not disabled under the Social Security Act, the Commissioner must establish that there is work that the plaintiff can perform with his or her residual functional capacity and that the work exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

The court explained that under the applicable regulations, it is clear that an administrative law judge determining whether a claimant is disabled only has to resolve conflicts between the evidence provided by a vocational expert and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles when the inconsistency is clear and has been identified. In other words, a claimant should not be permitted to review the record for unexplained or implied conflicts between the testimony of an expert witness and the provisions of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles if the conflict was not considered adequate to warrant adversarial development in the hearing before the administrative judge.

In the subject case, the court found that there was nothing in the record that indicated that the claimant’s attorney objected to the testimony of the vocational expert or pointed out any discrepancies during the hearing. Further, the administrative law judge asked the vocational expert if his testimony was consistent with the information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and he affirmed that it was. Thus, no inconsistency was identified, and the lower court ruling was affirmed.

Speak to a Trusted Social Security Disability Attorney

People who are unable to earn an income because of a physical or mental infirmity are often able to recover Social Security benefits, but in some instances, the Commissioner will incorrectly deem them able to work. If you need assistance seeking benefits, trusted Social Security disability attorney James K. Meehan can help you gather the evidence needed to pursue a just outcome. You can reach us through our online form or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a conference.