Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sheridan v. Colvin ... another unpublished opinion

The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded by a 2-1 vote on November 17, 2015.  Judges Fletcher and Berzon found that the ALJ did not give clear and convincing reasons to reject the testimony of Sheridan about her migraine headaches.  Judge Bea disagreed.

The majority found pedestrian errors.  Sheridan qualified the statement about activities with statements that she did so when she had a good day or depending on how she felt.  The Ninth Circuit needs to adopt a confrontation requirement so that the ALJ cannot just lurk with a perceived inconsistency and spring it at the time of decision.  The hearings do not last long enough to permit responsible representatives to ask about everything in the record.  The ALJ has a duty to develop the record.  Soto-Olate v. Holder imposes that obligation in the immigration context.

The court faults the ALJ for comparing statements in 2007 to 2008 as different.  The court finds it plausible that different times might have different symptoms and responses.  That is called commonsense.  The ALJ never asked.  See Soto-Olarte.

The court found insubstantial the comparison of onset in 2008 to the cessation of work in 2008.  Again, just a silly statement by an ALJ.  Life is progressive and erosive.  I was fine five years ago does not mean that I am fine today.  The ALJ never asked.  See Soto-Olarte.

The court found that the ALJ engage in conflation for simple migraines with migraines with aura.  If the ALJ does not understand the distinction, the ALJ has a solution, ask.  The ALJ never asked.  See Soto-Olarte.

Now the reason for writing.  The dissent would excuse bad decision-making and leave it to the ALJ to just speculate wildly about perceived inconsistencies without ever asking.  Judge Bea writes that doing laundrm, cooking dinner, cleaing the yard, shopping once or twice a week, caring for two pet dogs, .going to the track to watch her son race, and entertaining visitors would take hours of sitting, standing, and walking.  The italics - those are the judge's.  Sure they do, if Sheridan did them all consecutively or all in the same day.  But the ALJ didn't say that and Judge Bea doesn't report that.  The ALJ just combined them and said, well if you can accumulate hours of activity in a week, then you must be able to work.  The ALJ could have asked about the number of hours of activity in any particular day.  The ALJ never asked.  See Soto-Olarte.

Judge Bea implies in footnote 2 that Sheridan's response to physical therapy changed in June 2008 because she applied for benefits in March and alleged disability in February 2008.  The dust of slander is that Sheridan decided to exaggerate her disability in March and lied in June. The other alternative is that Sheridan got worse after July 2007, couldn't handle work by February, and told her doctors that therapy aggravated the headaches in June.  The ALJ never asked.  See Soto-Olarte.

I have a secret to tell the ALJs and the reviewing Article III judges.  Life is not static.  Disability is not static.  Symptoms vary for any number of reasons.  If you want to find disabled people, go to public places -- the ball game, high school gyms, the store -- go live a little life and get out the sequestered notion that the disabled live a secluded existence getting spoon fed their meals.  Just silly, no naive and puerile.

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