What Is A “Very Active” Lifestyle In A Disability Claim?

Jan 24, 2018 | Blog |

Social Security Disability Claim Denial Overturned by Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Andrew B. Bryant - Chicago insurance attorney

By: Andrew B. Bryant

In the recent decision of Cullinan v. Berryhill, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the denial of a Social Security Disability claim involving a woman suffering from various conditions including anxiety, depression, peripheral blindness, diabetes, sleep apnea and obesity.     The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing the claim found that while the claimant had several impairments, she was not disabled.   The ALJ discounted the testimony of the claimant and the opinion of claimant’s treating psychologist, finding that other medical evidence was more credible.   The ALJ found that the evidence supported the opinion that the claimant was “very active.” 

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded the ALJ’s decision.   The Seventh Circuit commented significantly upon the ALJ’s credibility determinations and the finding that claimant was engaged in a very active lifestyle.   The Seventh Circuit addressed numerous specific claimant activities relied upon by the ALJ in denying the claim, including: performing household chores, caring for her cousin, grandmother and others on occasion, attending concerts, attending an anniversary party, looking for work, and going on dates.   

In its decision, the Seventh Circuit found that while the evidence showed some degree of activity by claimant, the substantial evidence in the case did not establish that claimant led a very active lifestyle, especially in light of the claimant’s testimony and her treating psychologist’s opinion, which were discounted by the ALJ.    The Court stated, “[a]ttending concerts and family functions and spending some time with a man does not show that she is able to work, travel, or use public transportation.”

Cullinan v. Berryhill, 878 F.3d 598 (7th Cir. 2017).

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