Student and Pro Se Team Win Disability Benefits Appeal in DC Circuit

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 11, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Melvin Jones suffers from a variety of health problems. He alleges that, by 2004, he was unable to perform the tasks required — including lifting and driving — for the jobs he previously held. Since he could no longer work, he applied for disability benefits under the Social Security Act.

In the course of his disability benefits evaluations, Jones saw three doctors. Two noted his extensive back and leg pain; one of those determined that Jones could not work. The third doctor, to whom Jones was referred by the Social Security Administration (SSA), said Jones had full abilities for work-related activities. SSA denied Jones’ request for disability benefits.

Why should this matter to you, practicing-D.C.-area-attorney? Because Jones won his disability benefits appeal in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. And Jones was represented by student counsel.

That's right. Students are winning in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jones initially appealed the SSA denial pro se to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the district court. He argued that the ALJ should not have rejected one doctor's opinion that he could not work in favor of the SSA-referred doctor's opinion that he could. Both the ALJ and district court ruled against him.

While Jones was appealing in the district court, he also filed complaints with the D.C. Board of Medicine against the SSA-recommended doctor. The Board of Medicine responded to Jones, noting that the SSA-referred doctor had violated the Health Occupations Revision Act, which warranted disciplinary action.

Before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Jones, now accompanied by student counsel, challenged the district court judgment affirming the SSA's denial of his application for disability benefits. Jones contended that the ALJ did not properly apply the "treating physician rule" in evaluating his application, and further argued that new evidence - the Board of Medicine's letter about the SSA-referred doctor - had come to light that warranted a remand to the SSA. Last week, the circuit court agreed with Jones and remanded the case.

As a Mid-Atlantic region practitioner, you probably know that D.C. has the highest concentration of lawyers in the country. You know that there's greater job security napping through a trial in Michigan than caffeinating your way through an 80 hour work week in the District. Now, with a rag-tag team of pro se litigants and student counsel prevailing in a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals disability benefits appeal, you have one more reason to worry about job security.

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