Court Remands for Literacy Determination

Empire Justice Center October 31, 2019

Allison Zaloba of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY) in Albany convinced U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe that the ALJ erred in finding her client was not only capable of speaking English, but was “literate” in English.  See Anita R. v. Saul, 2019 WL 4736454 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2019).

Allison submitted a detailed memo citing evidence outlining her client’s education in Puerto Rico, the work she did before her disability, her need for an interpreter for both the administrative hearing and her medical appointments, and more. Judge Sharpe agreed, relying on the evidence cited by Allison to find the ALJ’s conclusion that the client was literate in English was not supported by substantial evidence. He also accepted Allison’s explanations for what might have appeared to be inconsistencies in the evidence. He concluded the ALJ erred in relying on Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the Grids) Rule 202.14 or 202.21 to find the client not disabled.

Judge Sharpe also found that the ALJ’s error colored the vocational expert’s testimony such that it could not serve as substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision.  Without considering the client’s inability to communicate in English, there was not substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s hypothetical involving a claimant who could interact frequently with the public, co-workers, and supervisors. Further, the VE testified a claimant could not perform the jobs listed if she had less than Level One of language development per the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). Judge Sharpe found the ALJ had failed to make a finding as to whether the claimant could communicate at that level, especially given her inability to communicate in English.

Congratulations to Allison!