Burrell v. Colvin

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 12-31-2014
  • Case #: 12-16673
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Graber for the Court; Circuit Judge Bybee; Dissent by Judge Schroeder
  • Full Text Opinion

When an administrative law judge denies social security disability benefits the judge must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant’s complaint.

Adrian Burrell claimed she suffered from severe headaches and pain, making her a qualified candidate for social security disability benefits. Burrell claims that she suffers one to two debilitating headaches a week, which may be brought on by basic household chores, such as vacuuming. However, her petition was denied by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) because of either “[her] testimony, or the ALJ’s rejection of the medical assessment by Burrell’s treating physician.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the ALJ's verdict and held that there was no substantial evidence to support such a finding because it was a based on a general finding of fact—Burrell’s testimony. Rather, the ALJ “must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant’s complaints.” Therefore, the general finding based on Burrnell’s testimony is insufficient. Additionally, the ALJ’s lack of evidence based on the claimant’s medical records was misleading and does not support such a denial of benefits. As a result, the panel reversed the district court’s decision, but the panel has “serious doubt” as to whether or not Burrell is actually disabled according to the case law of Garrison v. Colvin. The ALJ will have to decide on remand whether or not the claimant is truly disabled within legal bounds of the law on an open record for further proceedings. REVERSED and REMANDED with instructions.

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