Massachusetts Court Reverses Ruling in Social Security Disability Case

Generally, when a person with a disability applies for Supplemental Security Income, the Administrative Law Judge evaluating the individual’s claim will assess the evidence submitted by the claimant, including medical records and testimony. If the Judge relies on unsuitable evidence, though, it can result in an inappropriate decision and may be grounds for a reversal, as demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts case. If you suffer from a disability, you may be able eligible for social security benefits, and it is prudent to speak with a skillful Massachusetts social security disability attorney regarding your rights.

The Underlying Hearing

It is reported that the plaintiff suffered a head injury when she was 23-years-old, after which she spent a year in a rehabilitation center. Since the accident, she suffered seizures and memory decline, and in 2012 an MRI of her brain showed post-traumatic changes. She began treating for anxiety, depression, and seizure disorder but continued to suffer significant symptoms. She ultimately underwent testing that indicated she suffered from numerous mental and physical ailments.

Allegedly, in 2014 the plaintiff filed an application for social security disability benefits. Her claim was denied, and she filed an appeal. She received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (Judge), who determined her ailments were not sufficiently severe to warrant benefits. The plaintiff then appealed, arguing, in part, that the Judge improperly relied on lay testimony and failed to give sufficient weight to her medical expert. The appellate court agreed and reversed the Judge’s ruling.

Setting Aside an Administrative Law Judge’s Decision

Pursuant to the Social Security Act, courts have the authority to alter, affirm, or reverse the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security without remanding the matter for a rehearing. The court must assess whether the agency’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standard was employed.

For factual findings, a high standard is not imposed to demonstrate substantial evidence. Instead, the court must only find that there is relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. While more than a scintilla of evidence is required, a preponderance of the evidence is not. The court can set aside a Judge’s decision where the factual findings were derived by judging matters entrusted to experts or ignoring evidence.

In the subject case, the court found that the Judge failed to consider challenges to the vocational expert testimony regarding the plaintiff’s work capacity that were raised by plaintiff’s expert’s affidavit. Specifically, the Judge failed to consider that the vocational expert’s opinion, which was offered in response to a question from the Judge, was incomplete or flawed for reasons explained by the plaintiff’s expert. Thus, the matter was remanded for reconsideration.

Meet with a Capable Social Security Disability Attorney

Physical and mental disabilities can greatly impact a person’s ability to earn an income, but fortunately many people living with disabilities are eligible to recover social security disability benefits. If you cannot work due to a debilitating condition, the capable social security disability attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan can advise you of your options and help you to pursue the full amount of benefits you may be owed. You can contact us via our form online or at 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.