A Reasoned Decision - Wilkes-Barre, Scranton Personal Injury Lawyers

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A Reasoned Decision

As many of you know, the Social Security Administration employs a five part test to determine whether an applicant is disabled.  The five steps are as follows:

1.) Whether the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2.) Whether the applicant has a severe impairment;
3.) Whether the applicant s impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services as creating a presumption of disability;
4.) Whether the applicant can return to his past relevant employment; and
5.) Based upon the applicant s age, education and work experience, can the applicant make an adjustment to another type of work.

In the third step of the analysis, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) must determine whether an applicant s impairment, or combination of impairments, meets or equals a listed impairment as established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Jesurum v. Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 48 F.3d 114 (3d Cir. 1995).  If an applicant meets one of the listings as established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, then she is per se disabled and no further analysis is necessary.  Burnett v. Commissioner, 220 F.3d 112 (3d Cir. 2000).

Most ALJ seem to bypass the third step of the analysis and simply determine that the applicant does not meet or equal a medical listing.  In some cases, the ALJ makes a blanket statement that certain medical listings have been considered, but that the Applicant s condition does not meet the criteria for the medical listing.  This conclusion is most prevalent with ALJ who do not employ the resources of a doctor at the hearing.

However, an ALJ must provide ample analysis to permit  meaningful judicial review  for his findings at step three of the Commissioner s analysis.  Id. at 120.  In Burnett, the 3rd Circuit Court of appeals rejected the ALJ s conclusory statements that the claimant did not meet a medical listing without citation to further information.  The court determined that the ALJ must provide a basis for his conclusions.

The court has refined this conclusion.  An ALJ is not required to use  magic words  in his analysis.  Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 505 (3d Cir. 2004).  Further, an ALJ is not required to use a particular format in conducting his analysis.  Thus, an ALJ may make a conclusory statement that the claimant does not meet a medical listing as long as the ALJ addresses the impairment in his decision.  Nevertheless, this argument should be made at the appellate stage when the ALJ clearly does not adequately analyze the facts.

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