Hill v. Astrue

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Disability Law
  • Date Filed: 08-07-2012
  • Case #: 10-35879
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judges Goodwin and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

At the fifth step of the five-step sequential analysis required under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), “[i]f a vocational expert’s hypothetical does not reflect all the claimant’s limitations, then the expert’s testimony has no evidentiary value to support a finding that the claimant can perform jobs in the national economy.”

Debbra Jo Hill has numerous physical and psychological conditions that preclude her from working. Hill’s Social Security disability claim was denied, and an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) reviewed the claim. Hill’s examining psychologist, Dr. Johnson, testified that Hill’s combined mental and physical problems made “the likelihood of sustained full time competitive employment unlikely.” The ALJ did not weigh this evidence and gave no reason for excluding Dr. Johnson’s testimony. Instead, the ALJ used the testimony of Dr. Kuka, a non-examining expert witness, to reach his conclusion. On appeal, Hill argued that: (1) the ALJ failed to consider favorable evidence; and (2) the ALJ posed an incomplete and improper hypothetical to the Social Security Commissioner’s expert witness. To evaluate disability claims, the ALJ must undergo a five-step sequential analysis. At step four, the ALJ determined that Hill’s residual functional capacity was not limited by her physical and mental condition based on Dr. Kuka’s opinion. At step five, the ALJ asked a vocational expert an incomplete hypothetical question to determine whether jobs exist in the national economy that Hill could obtain. The Commissioner’s expert concluded that there were jobs; however, on cross-examination the expert was provided with a full record of Hill’s condition, and he testified that “it would not be possible” for a person with Hill’s diagnosis to find a job in the national economy. Because the ALJ credited the testimony of the Commissioner’s expert over Hill’s examining physician, and used that testimony to formulate the incomplete hypothetical, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment upholding the ALJ ruling. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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