Indiana woman will not receive Social Security disability benefits after 7e The Circuit Court of Appeal said her illnesses do not limit her, at a minimum, to sedentary work.
Plaintiff-appellant Brenda Wilder applied for Social Security disability benefits in August 2016, alleging a disability onset date of October 8, 2015. Wilder had a significant number of medical appointments prior to filing her claim , during which she reported pain, loss of balance and cases of falling, among other similar conditions.
Wilder’s claim for disability insurance benefits was administratively denied, so she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. At his September 2018 hearing, Wilder testified that his “gait is out of step and my balance is down, really bad.” She also said she fell spontaneously “about three times a week” and found it difficult to do daily activities such as laundry, washing up dishes and grocery shopping.
When asked if she thought she could work in an office, Wilder said she “would have trouble getting up to walk” and couldn’t type. She also believed that she moved more slowly due to her ataxia, a condition affecting a person’s gait, and that she would have difficulty maintaining a regular presence.
Wilder’s attorney at the time did not argue before the ALJ that she met or equaled the 11.17 listing, “Neurodegenerative disorders of the central nervous system, such as Huntington’s disease, Friedreich’s ataxia and spinocerebellar degeneration ”. Instead, at the start of the hearing, her lawyer admitted that she had neither met nor matched any list.
After Wilder’s testimony and the testimony of a vocational training expert, however, Wilder’s attorney qualified his earlier statement by saying: “I said earlier that I didn’t think she had encountered a list. , because there is no list for it. ” He then added: “there might be an argument of equivalence” and, “I just wonder if that might be of help, if Your Honor does not have enough today to resolve the matter, for questioning. [to a medical expert] to send.
In a written notice issued after the hearing, the ALJ concluded that Wilder was not disabled under the Social Security Administration’s five-step method.
Wilder retained a new attorney when she took her case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, where she argued the ALJ should have determined whether it met or equaled the 11.17 (a) list. But the district court found that even though there was “clear evidence” of “serious deficiencies affecting his balance,” Wilder did not meet the criteria for enrollment.
“There is no doubt that the Complainant had difficulty walking, squatting and balancing”, but “the evidence does not show that she was unable to get up from a seated position or to maintain an upright position, ”observed the district court.
The court pointed to evidence in the file showing Wilder was able to walk short distances without falling. Further, he concluded that the ALJ did not err in refusing to seek the advice of a medical expert as to whether Wilder’s impairments were medically equivalent to List 11.17 (a).
The Northern Indiana District Court relied on Social Security’s 17-2p decision, which states that ALJs “may request and review evidence from medical experts,” but they are not required to do so if the ALJ believes that “the evidence does not reasonably support a finding” that an individual matches or matches a list.
Regarding Wilder’s subjective symptoms, the district court concluded that the ALJ “could correctly conclude that the plaintiff’s statements about not having a fall” at various medical appointments were inconsistent with her testimony at the hearing that she fell about three times a week.
The district court determined that the ALJ erred in inferring negatively against her that she “never took the recommended therapy” without first investigating whether she could afford therapy, but found any harmless error.
On appeal, Wilder challenged the finding that she did not meet or equal List 11.17 (a) and the failure to require a medical expert. In addition, she argued that the judge wrongly discredited her subjective symptoms, which led to her erroneously concluding that she had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work.
But the 7e Circuit confirmed Tuesday at Brenda L. Wilder v. Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Social Security Commissioner, 21-1607.
“We agree with the district court that Wilder is breaking the 11.17 (a) list. To satisfy this list, Wilder had to provide proof that she suffered from an “extreme limitation” in her ability to either “get up from a seated position. [or] balance when standing or walking, ‘”7e Circuit judge Amy St. Eve has written for the court. “… By his own admission, Walker only uses one cane to walk, not two. Although she clearly struggled with her balance, there was evidence on file that she was able to stand on her own and walk short distances without incident.
The appeals court further found that Wilder had failed to meet its obligation to show that she was medically equal to List 11.17 (a) and that the ALJ’s failure to explicitly consider the List 11.17 was not a reversible error. The circuit court cited Vance vs. Berryhill860 F.3d 1114, 1118 (8th Cir. 2017), to reach this conclusion.
“Likewise, we reject Wilder’s suggestion that the ALJ was required to seek proof of medical equivalency from a medical expert,” St. Eve wrote, noting Social Security decision 17-2p. “… This Court will uphold the determination of the credibility of an ALJ unless that determination is ‘manifestly in error’.
“… To the extent that the ALJ found Wilder not to be credible,” St. Eve concluded, “there was evidence to support this conclusion as well.”