ALJ’s development of the record inadequate; remand ordered
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Friday, July 23, 2021

ALJ’s development of the record inadequate; remand ordered

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

An ALJ has an affirmative duty to fully and fairly develop the record in order to make a disability determination. Here, the claimant argued that the ALJ erred by discounting her credibility and failing to obtain an updated psychological examination. The court concluded that reliance on a family member’s opinion to downplay the claimant’s credibility as to the severity of her mental illnesses was questionable, especially given the claimant’s history. In addition, the ALJ erred by using the claimant’s failure to seek treatment as a basis to discount her credibility regarding her depression and other mental illnesses. Finally, the court ruled that the ALJ further erred in failing to order a new psychological examination. The most recent psychological examination and mental-status examination in the record both took place well before the claimant’s hearing. The ALJ denied the claimant’s counsel’s request for a new psychological examination, despite the testimony from a medical expert that an updated examination would help determine the claimant’s current level of functioning. Indeed, the ALJ herself acknowledged that the file contained "very, very limited mental health counseling records." The court reasoned that where an ALJ fails to develop the record, it cannot conclude that the ALJ’s decision was based on substantial evidence. The denial of benefits was reversed. The case was remanded for an updated psychological examination and further proceedings in light of the new examination before determining the claimant’s eligibility for benefits (Tatiana E. Alderson v. Commr., CA-9 (Unpub. Op.), No. 20-35638, June 25, 2021).

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