Court Raises the Bar for SSA Judges’ Decisions Denying Social Security Disability Claims

A federal appeals court recently issued a decision containing good news for Social Security disability claimants residing in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the other states within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court determined that when Social Security disability judges decide that a claimant’s testimony at the hearing level is not entirely credible, they must provide “specific, clear, and convincing” reasons for rejecting the testimony, and cite to medical evidence in the record that contradicts the claimant’s testimony. Our office has experienced that some judges were denying claims without adequately explaining which parts of the claimant testimony they believed to be less than credible. This new ruling instructs SSA judges to give a more thorough explanation for rejecting the testimony of a claimant, and will provide clarity for those claimants who receive an unfavorable decision from a Social Security disability judge.

Many claimants have seen some variation of the following language recited in their denial decisions from the judge: “Although the claimant’s statements regarding his or her impairments could be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the medical record.” The court stated that judges can no longer use this kind of boilerplate language to deny claims without providing further explanation for an unfavorable decision by citing to the contradictory evidence in the medical record.

The court in Brown-Hunter v. Colvin said that so long as the SSA judge finds that a claimant in not exaggerating his or her impairment in order to avoid work, the SSA judge must provide specific reasons for rejecting the testimony of a claimant by citing to evidence in their medical record. This is great news for our clients who have waited years for the opportunity to testify about how their pain symptoms interfere with their everyday lives.