Tree Law Sets Legal Precedence in Social Security Disability Law
Not many lawyers have the opportunity to set new Social Security law in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Tree Law is one of the few law firms in Washington State that has set new law to assist claimants in being awarded Social Security Disability Benefits.
Loyd Gatliff applied for social security benefits and was denied those benefits twice before he had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Mr. Tree represented Loyd Gatliff at his Social Security Disability Hearing. At the hearing Mr. Tree obtained evidence that due to Mr. Gatliff’s impairments he could only hold a job for a couple months before he would be fired as a result of his impairments. The Social Security ALJ held that Mr. Gatliff could piece together a series of jobs each lasting approximately two to three months and denied Mr. Gatliff’s claim. An appeal to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council in Arlington, Virginia was denied.
Another appeal was made to the Federal District Court where the Federal Judge declared there was no law in the ninth circuit on the issue of whether a person who could only work a couple months should be found disabled. Absent such law he sided with the Social Security Administration and upheld the denial of benefits to Mr. Gatliff.
Mr. Tree appealed this denial to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California. The Ninth Circuit is the largest federal court in the United States and has jurisdiction over 9 western states in the United States. Appeals from the Ninth Circuit go directly to the US Supreme Court. Mr. Tree had to travel to present oral argument before three Judges from the ninth circuit.
The ninth circuit court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Tree’s argument and held that not only must a person be able to find a job but they must be able to hold it for a significant period of time. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals awarded Mr. Gatliff over five years of back benefits. Gatliff v. Social Security Administration 172 F. 3d. 690 (9th Cir. 1999).
As a result new law was established in the Ninth Circuit. Now throughout the 9th circuit whenever a claimant is only able to hold a job for a few months before getting fired they should receive benefits based on the precedent setting case of Gatliff v. Social Security.
172 F.3d 690
Unempl.Ins.Rep. (CCH) P 16162B, 99 Cal. Daily Op.
1999 Daily Journal D.A.R. 3191
Loyd E. GATLIFF, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant,
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
United States Court of Appeals,
Argued and Submitted Jan. 12, 1999.
Decided April 2, 1999.
D. James Tree, Yakima, Washington, for the plaintiff-appellant.
Richard H. Wetmore, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, for the defendant-appellee.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon; Robert E. Jones, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-96-01656-JO.
Before: LEAVY, McKEOWN, and WARDLAW, Circuit Judges.
McKEOWN, Circuit Judge.
1Does a string of sequential, short-term jobs constitute “substantial gainful activity” under the Social Security Act (the “Act”)? 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Put more directly, does a claimant’s cobbling together some 150 different jobs over his remaining 25-year work life constitute meaningful, sustained employment?
2We must decide whether a Social Security claimant’s ability to perform successive jobs, generally lasting no more than two months, renders him capable of substantial gainful activity. We conclude that it does not, and therefore reverse the judgment of the district court. Substantial employment cannot be pieced together from a collection of insubstantial attempts. This is one instance in which the maxim e pluribus unum does not apply.
3Loyd E. Gatliff, Jr. is functionally illiterate and suffers from several severe mental impairments, including antisocial personality disorder, developmental reading and expressive language disorder, and probable attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Although he completed eleventh grade, with the last several years in special education, early on he was certified as a “mentally retarded child for special class placement.” During the 15 years prior to his claimed disability, Gatliff was employed sporadically and held 20-30 jobs. He was terminated from at least half of those jobs, the longest of which lasted six to eight months, due to anger problems and conflicts with supervisors or co-workers.
4Gatliff applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits, claiming disability based on mental impairment, a fused vertebra in his neck, a bad knee and a bad back. After both applications were denied, Gatliff requested and was granted an administrative hearing. During the hearing, Gatliff and his wife testified about his neck and back pain as well as his antisocial behavior and difficulty controlling his anger. Gatliff’s wife testified that Gatliff regularly has fits of anger, which involve throwing and kicking things and punching doors and walls.
5After considering conflicting evidence about Gatliff’s ability to work, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that Gatliff could not return to his previous work in logging, construction or landscaping. The ALJ concluded that he could perform light work but that his capacity was reduced by his social and intellectual limitations. Much of the hearing focused on the practical impact of Gatliff’s mental limitations. In response to the ALJ’s hypothetical question, which assumed that Gatliff was capable of a job demanding only “light work,” “simple and repetitive” tasks, and “little interaction with co-workers and supervisors,” a vocational expert testified that Gatliff could perform the jobs of office cleaner or partition assembler. However, in response to a question posed by Gatliff’s attorney, the vocational expert conceded that Gatliff could only be expected to stay in any one job for a “couple of months” before being fired as a result of his mental impairments. The expert also testified that Gatliff’s pattern–the ability to obtain, but not maintain, jobs–would continue.
6The ALJ determined that Gatliff was capable of performing light work and was therefore not disabled. The Appeals Council declined Gatliff’s petition for review and the district court upheld the ALJ’s decision, concluding “as a legal matter,