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New York Court Holds that ALJ Not Required to Call Vocational Expert at Disability Hearing

Written by Ankin Law Office

As part of its claim review process, the SSA and Administration Law Judges (ALJ) consider an applicant’s residual functional capacity, or his or her ability to perform other jobs despite his or her medical condition.  When assessing residual functional capacity, an ALJ will frequently consider the testimony of medical experts, as well as vocational experts.  A federal court in the Northern District of New York recently held in Colon v. Commission of Social Security that an ALJ is not required to hear the testimony of a vocational expert at a claim appeal hearing.

In Colon, the plaintiff applicant suffered from anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems and severe back pain.  She had previously performed a number of jobs, including a cashier, customer service representative, bill collector and sales associate.  Unable to work as a result of her medical conditions, she filed an application for SSDI and SSI benefits in 2007.  Her applications were denied in early 2008 and she promptly filed a request for a hearing with an ALJ.  The hearing was held in June 2009 and resulted in a denial of benefits.  Plaintiff filed a timely appeal to the Appeals Council of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

Her lawsuit in the federal court alleged that, among other things, the ALJ failed to consider the vocational factors (such as age, education, and past work experience) when determining her residual functional capacity.

The court ruled that an ALJ may, but is not required to, consult a vocational expert when assessing a claimant’s ability to work when the claimant suffers from a “non-exertional” (or non-physical) impairment that significantly diminishes the claimant’s ability to perform a full range of physical functions.  Since the plaintiff’s “greatest non-exertional complaint throughout the record was that she couldn’t work with people,” the ALJ correctly found that this did not limit the range of physical work that she could perform and, therefore, the ALJ was not required to consult a vocational expert.

Although the court in this case held that the ALJ was justified in not called a vocational expert, ALJs frequently consult with vocational experts, as well as medical experts, in connection with social security disability hearings. Accordingly, it is important to hire a skilled social security attorney who is familiar with the information provided by any vocational experts consulted at your hearing.  The experienced Chicago social security attorneys at Ankin Law Offices, LLC are well-versed with the process for reviewing social security applications in Illinois.  We have considerable experience representing clients at social security disability hearings and can question any vocation experts called to testify at the hearing.

Categories: Social Security