Social Security Administrative Law Judges must be careful with credibility determinations

In March 2010, the 7th Circuit remanded two Social Security disability cases to Administrative Law Judges in Illinois, finding that they had not reasonably supported denying benefits to claimants. Parker v. Astrue, Nos. 09-2270, 09-2722 (7th Cir. 2010). The Judge denied benefits to both claimants despite stating that their medcially determinable impairments could have reasonably produced the symptoms alleged but that the witnesses were not “entirely credible.”

The first claimant suffers from continuous pain which her doctors refer to as disabling, severe and constant. Despite multiple surgeries and medication, her pain has not been relieved and the cause of her pain is unknown. Chronic pain is a condition that cannot be diagnosed with a simple test or lab and causation is also difficult to determine. The court reminded the Judge that simply because the cause of her pain was undetermined did not automatically mean she was malingering or faking her symptoms.

The second claimant alleges that she is disabled from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While this case deals more with when a disability began, the reason for the remand is that the Judge denied benefits without offering sufficient explanation for his decision.

The Court remanded both of these cases back to the Judges to explain their reasoning. The remand does not necessarily mean that these claimants will eventually be granted benefits, but it holds the Administrative Law Judges accountable to the law and a substantive decision. This case reminds Administrative Law Judges that if they discredit witness testimony or find medical evidence to be “less than credible”, the matter cannot stop there. The Judge must give specific reasoning for why he determines particular evidence or testimony to be less credible or less weighty than other information in the record.

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