Gonzalez v. Barnhart, Brief of Defendant, U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, U.S. Attorney's Office

Pleadings and Briefs

The U.S. Attorney’s Office submitted this brief on behalf of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in defense of a claim that SSA’s decision to deny Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) to an HIV-positive woman was unsupported by the evidence. In order to determine if a claimant is eligible for DIB, the SSA must engage in a five-step sequential analysis. An administrative law judge performed this analysis and found that the woman was not disabled. SSA argues that although the woman was impaired by her HIV infection and other related conditions, which limited her ability to lift heavy items or stand for more than two hours, she still had residual functional capacity that allowed her to do other kinds of work that did not require lifting or standing. As a result, SSA found that she was not eligible for DIB, and the brief asserts that there was substantial evidence to support this conclusion. Although the arguments in this brief support denial of benefits, the brief provides a useful summary of the analysis involved in eligibility determination. The language in the brief is also useful in understanding how the importance of the treating physician’s opinion, and the disabling effects of HIV medications, may be downplayed by the SSA.