man holding back in pain

Disability Law Group: October Case Spotlight

In November of 2019, attorney Erika Riggs was contacted by a 30 year old woman from Ypsilanti, Michigan, who was having a difficult time finding a reputable attorney to take her case on appeal. Her claim for Social Security Disability benefits had been denied many times despite appeal after appeal. She had just received a denial by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) following a hearing where she was represented by an attorney from a different law firm. She felt discouraged by the decision, and on top of it all she was suffering from serious back pain with numbness, tingling and weakness affecting both of her legs and feet. What made matters even worse for her – she was facing homelessness by being unable to work due to her medical conditions, and unable to pay her mortgage payments.

When she called Mrs. Riggs, attorney and partner at Disability Law Group, she had only one more month left before the deadline to file an appeal from the ALJ’s decision. Following a denial, or an Unfavorable Decision from an ALJ, the next step in the appeal process is called a ‘Request for Review’ to the Appeals Council (AC). The AC is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, and is made-up of approximately 53 Administrative Appeals Judges with 44 Appeals Officers, and several hundred support personnel that assist the Judges and Officers along the way. The wait time at the AC level can range from many months to longer than two years for a decision with approximately 144,000 cases reviewed and decided in 2019. The AC may grant, deny, or dismiss a request for review, but the majority of requests are denied at this level.

Not every law firm, including those who specialize in disability cases, take appeals at the AC level or beyond. At Disability Law Group, our attorneys specialize only in disability and take cases at the AC and beyond, to include the US District Court level of appeals. Erika carefully reviewed the Unfavorable decision by the ALJ and the medical records previously submitted and agreed to take her case. Acting quickly with no time to waste – Mrs. Riggs quickly filed the ‘Request for Review’ at the Appeals Council along with a brief in support. In her brief, Erika pointed out the evidence supporting that her client should be considered disabled at Step 3 of the sequential evaluation process – the step that addresses the Listings enumerated by Social Security.

Specifically, Mrs. Riggs argued that her client’s lumbar spinal condition with stenosis resulted in pseudoclaudication established by MRI findings and manifested by chronic pain and weakness with an inability to ambulate effectively, thereby showing that Listing 1.04 was reasonably met or medically equalled. Further, she pointed out errors in the ALJ’s decision when evaluation the Listing at Step 3 of the sequential evaluation process, including neglecting to properly analyze her client’s medical records and hearing testimony that correspond to the relevant Listing. She concluded her argument by requesting a medical expert opinion evidence evaluating all record evidence with an interrogatory addressing whether her client’s lumbar spinal condition met or medically equaled Listing 1.04. Ultimately, the AC agreed with Erika’s arguments in support and determined that the ALJ failed her duty to consider relevant evidence, issuing a Remand for further development, including an opinion from a Medical Expert.

In less than one month from the AC’s Remand Order, attorney Riggs and her staff worked swiftly to prepare and update the evidence of record and a Medical Expert Interrogatory was requested and received. The ALJ immediately issued an on-record Fully Favorable Decision based on Erika’s arguments and evidence in support without even requiring another hearing, finding that the claimant’s spinal condition met the criteria of Listing 1.04. This award of Social Security Disability benefits meant more than 3 years’ worth of past due benefits, monthly disability payments, and Medicare coverage for the client. Notably, the same day that Disability Law Group received the Fully Favorable Decision, Erika and her staff immediately submitted a dire need request to release her client’s back-pay benefits promptly so that she could keep her home, and not have to worry about foreclosure.

In her review she provided upon hearing of the good news, her client gave us 5-stars and wrote: “Erika Riggs was absolutely amazing! She was pivotal to my SSDI appeal approval. She was with me every step of the way and let me know I was not alone. She took the time to answer all my questions, no matter how frivolous. She even called me on her day off to tell me I was approved. I wish Erika could represent me in all my legal battles.”

If you or someone you know are suffering from pain or other serious problems that keep you from being able to work and affect your ability to function normally, contact Disability Law Group today for your free consultation. Our attorneys and staff specialize strictly in disability benefits, and we will fight to help you win every benefit you deserve. Whether you were already denied or if you would like advice from the very start, contact us today and speak with one of our attorneys to understand your rights and get the representation that you need.