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Time and time again, administrative law judges (“ALJs”) invoke the mantra that determining the issue of disability is an issue that is reserved to the Commissioner when deciding Social Security Disability (“SSD”) claims. While that statement is correct, ALJs invariably apply it incorrectly.
It is true that a treating physician’s legal assertion that a claimant is disabled is not entitled to any special significance. However, the case law is clear that the same cannot be said about a treating physician’s medical assessment of the claimant’s limitations. The case law holds that a physician’s opinions regarding a claimant’s capacity to sit, lift, and stand for example, are in no way legal conclusions reserved to the Commissioner because they are not an opinion on the issue of legal disability, but on the nature and severity of the claimant’s impairments.
The problem is that ALJs invoke their “reserved” mantra as a basis to reject the limitations of a physician. That is a misapplication of the law. I received a decision today where the ALJ did just that. However, as the ALJ still issued a fully favorable decision, it will not need to be appealed.
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