Meyer v. Astrue, No. 10-1581

Decided Dec. 2, 2011

Maurice Eugene Meyer fell twenty five feet from a deer stand while hunting, resulting in “significant injuries.” After several surgeries and months of extensive rehabilitation, Meyer filed for Social Security disability benefits. The benefits were denied by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), detailing its analysis and findings of fact per the “customary five-step sequential analysis.”

Meyer appealed to the Appeals Council (Council) and submitted new evidence not available during the earlier hearing that tended to support his claim of disability. The Council denied Meyer’s request for review. Though the Council noted that the new evidence was added to the record, it stated that there was no reason to change the ALJ’s judgment without giving any details for its decision. The district court affirmed this decision.

On appeal, Meyer argued that the Council erred by not giving specific findings of fact as to why it denied review. The Council will grant review of an ALJ’s determination if: “(1) There appears to be an abuse of discretion by the [ALJ]; (2) There is an error of law; (3) The action, findings, or conclusions of the [ALJ] are not supported by substantial evidence; or (4) There is a broad policy or procedural issue that may affect the general public interest.” If upon review of the record the Council finds that the evidence is not contrary to the weight of evidence, it may deny review of the decision and nothing in the Social Security Act requires the Council to give its reasons.

Nonetheless, the court remanded the case in light of the new evidence presented to the council. The ALJ’s analysis implied that its decision was based on a lack of contrary evidence. Such evidence became available after the hearing, but since the Council summarily denied review, no finder of fact has reconciled the competing evidence regarding Meyer’s disability claims. Thus, the ALJ needs to reevaluate the claim in light of all the evidence and enter a new decision.

Full Opinion

-C. Alexander Cable

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