When an obviously wrong decision by a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is appealed to the Appeals Council you would expect its Administrative Appeals Judges (“AAJs”) to correct it. Unfortunately, the AAJs too frequently fail to rectify the ALJ’s errors.
I received a decision by AAJs Barbara Johnson and Louann Igasaki that, rather than rectifying the error by ALJ Seymour Fier, who is one of the ALJ’s being sued in a class action for anti-claimant bias, actually compounds the ALJ’s error. Even though all three physicians stated that the claimant lacked a sedentary work capacity, Fier stated the claimant had a sedentary work capacity until March 2008 because the claimant was “working” until that date. Fier omitted from his decision that the claimant’s “working” in 2007 and 2008 only amounted to $1,725.28 and $4,233.00 respectively, which does not come close to approaching substantial gainful activity (“SGA”), and certainly fails to demonstrate the claimant had anything close to the ability to work on a sustained full time basis.
The case law and regulations are absolutely clear that a person is allowed to work without it affecting their right to SSD benefits as long as the work does not constitute SGA. To make matters even worse, even if the work had been SGA, Fier failed to consider whether the work constituted an unsuccessful work attempt or trial work period. The Appeals Council disregarded the case law and regulations, and affirmed the ALJ’s decision that the claimant had a sedentary work capacity. But that was not even their real error.
The claimant was over 55 years old at the time he became disabled. I advised the Appeals Council that ALJ Fier ruled that the claimant had no transferable skills, which was based on the testimony of the Vocational Expert (“VE”). Absolute proof that ALJ Fier concluded the claimant had no transferable skills was his applying Medical Vocational Rule 201.28, which is used when a claimant has no transferable skills. ALJ Fier mistakenly thought the claimant was under 50 years of age, and by applying Rule 201.28 would be able to deny benefits.
Because the claimant was over 55 years of age, ALJ Fier should have applied Rule 201.06. However, it makes no difference whether ALJ Fier’s applying Rule 201.28 was an attempt to deny SSD benefits consistent with his anti-claimant bias, or was a “clerical error” as AAJs Johnson and Igasaki claimed.
The claimant was over 55 years of age and had no transferable skills, and therefore, the medical vocational rules required that he be found disabled. Johnson and Igasaki claimed that a clerical error regarding the claimant’s age caused ALJ Fier to apply Rule 201.28. However, Fier’s clerical error regarding the claimant’s age had nothing to do with Fier’s conclusion that the claimant lacked transferable skills. Not surprisingly, Johnson and Igasaki failed to mention that there was any clerical error regarding the finding that the claimant lacked transferable skills.
Instead of correcting ALJ Fier’s obvious error, Johnson and Igasaki compounded it by issuing an order remanding the case for a VE to determine if the claimant had transferable skills – even though that was already done at the previous hearing, and even though Fier had already determined that the claimant lacked transferable skills. AAJs Johnson and Igasaki inexplicably ordered that another ALJ be assigned to the case.