Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyers & Illinois Injury Lawyers

What ‘Boilerplate Language’ in a Social Security ALJ’s Opinion Looks Like, and What It Can Mean to Your Disability Case in Illinois

| May 29, 2024 | Social Security |

A “boilerplate” may be a vital thing in certain industries, but boilerplate language can be anything but essential in your Social Security Disability case. One bit of good news is that, here in Illinois, if the administrative law judge (ALJ) who denied your application used boilerplate language in making his/her findings, that error may be something you can use to get the decision reversed and revive your claim. As always, an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability lawyer can be one of the greatest assets your case can have.

Boilerplate language in a court or administrative opinion often refers to form language that reflects little about the unique facts of the individual case. Saying in an injury case, for example, that “the plaintiff bore the burden of proving that the defendant owed him a duty and that the defendant breached that duty,” can be boilerplate language because those assertions are true of virtually every injury case everywhere.

Boilerplate language also exists in Social Security Disability cases, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings directly control federal cases in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin has been highly critical of it.

In recent years, many ALJs have issued rulings denying disability applicants’ claims with a form paragraph that says the ALJ “carefully considered” the evidence but found that the applicant’s testimony about the “intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with” the evidence. This exact language has been criticized in the past by the 7th Circuit as a “meaningless” type of boilerplate wording.

Yet it popped up again in I.B.’s recent case. I.B. was a shelf stocker and warehouse worker until a security guard chasing a shoplifter crashed into her. The accident broke her left leg in multiple places. The injury led to no fewer than four leg surgeries and the temporary implantation of hardware in her leg. Even after all the surgeries and all the physical therapy, I.B. still experienced pain and swelling.

These ongoing problems forced her to take several remedial steps. One was that she needed to elevate the leg to waist level for periods of time. When the ALJ asked about this limitation, the vocational expert in I.B.’s case testified that “you can’t do sedentary work with a leg elevated to waist height.”

Nevertheless, the ALJ ruled against I.B. The ALJ’s opinion stated that the applicant’s “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical and other evidence of record,” and that I.B. could perform certain types of sedentary jobs.

‘Not entirely consistent’ was not the right standard

This was exactly the sort of boilerplate language the 7th Circuit had criticized. Also, as the District Court noted in reversing I.B.’s denial of benefits, the wording reflected the wrong analytical standard for determining if an application should be granted. As the 7th Circuit has stated in previous rulings, an applicant’s statements need not be 100% consistent with the medical evidence for the applicant to be qualified to receive benefits. Instead, the law says that an ALJ must decide whether the applicant’s symptom complaints “can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence.” Clearly, that is a different and less stringent requirement than the inaccurate “not entirely consistent” standard. All of that meant that the denial of I.B.’s claim had to be reversed.

The experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca are here to be the powerful advocate you deserve when you need to make a claim. Our team collectively has decades of experience successfully getting clients through the whole SSDI process and to the positive results they need. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.