Alice in Wonderland Meets Social Security

At the trial to determine who stole the tarts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the following dialogue takes place:

`Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

`No, no!’ said the Queen. `Sentence first–verdict afterwards.’

`Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!’

A number of years ago, the following canned language started to appear in decisions denying  disabled people their benefits: “After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the above residual functional capacity assessment”.

Let’s put that into non-canned language. What the Judge who includes that sentence in a decision is really saying: “I’ve decided what I think you can do and anything you say that does not match what I think, is untrue.”

The first time I read that language, I had to read it over several times–I thought someone had just misspoken. Then, after I saw it a few more times, I realized that someone drafted it for the Judges, telling them it was a great idea how to deny someone their benefits.

I am delighted to say that the 7th Circuit is also a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but, as a work of fiction and and not as part of  anything that approaches due process standards.  In two recent decisions, the Court of Appeals recognized this babble for what it is. The first is Bjornson v. Astrue, No. 11-2422, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. Jan. 31, 2012). The second, decided a few months later, Smith v. Astrue, No. 11-2838 (7th Cir. Mar. 12, 2012). In Smith, the Court said it the canned language “implies that the ability to work is determined first and is then used to determine the claimant’s credibility. That gets things backwards.” Yes, it does. The idea of having the sentence first!

I hope to see other jurisdictions following, so I never have to look at such stuff and nonsense in a decision again.

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2 Responses to Alice in Wonderland Meets Social Security

  1. Denied Disability says:

    My denial written by ALJ Gregory M. Hamel February 2013 contained the same paragraph, so the “meaningless boilerplate” and prior scoldings by the courts have not stopped them from using this language. When there is no oversight or punitive damages judges are apparently emboldened to do whatever they want. Reminds me of the SEC before Madoff.

  2. Paul A. Toth says:

    Judge Hamel is an absolute disgrace and his handling of my fiancee’s case about as close to justice as the Nuremberg Laws. When he didn’t like the findings by one of her physicians, he simply noted — I’m not kidding — that his handwriting was illegible. Worse, he denied her appeal despite the Social Security Administration having recorded, on paper, that its only question regarding her claim was whether to grant more or less than a few months’ back pay out of well over twelve months total. The physicians the SSA itself sent her to reported that she was in fact disabled. How is this possible? Why even have Social Security appeals when those who decide them are held to no laws, rules or regulations whatsoever? They’re not eve held to a deadline of any kind whatsoever. If Judge Hamel had acted in the same manner as an attorney in a criminal or even civil case, he would have been disbarred and charged with perjury. I long ago lost any trust whatsoever in this nation’s government and the corporate cronies who operate it, but this is a new and pathetic low. To treat the disabled as enemies of the state, which is exactly what such “judges” do, is to render the term “traitor” entirely meaningless.

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