Gonzalez v. Barnhart, Brief of Plaintiff, U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Empire Justice Center

Pleadings and Briefs

The Empire Justice Center submitted this brief on behalf of an HIV-positive who was denied Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The woman suffered from chronic genital herpes outbreaks, back and leg pain, and other ailments associated with her HIV medications. She was limited to walking or standing for only one hour in an eight-hour day, and limited to lifting less than 10 pounds. These limitations made it impossible for her to continue with her assembly line job. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found, however, that she had some residual functional capacity that allowed her to do sedentary work and was thus not disabled for purposes of DIB eligibility. The brief argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical evidence and determined that the woman’s impairments were less severe than they actually were, contrary to the evidence in the record. According to the brief, the woman easily met two of the SSA disability listings. First, she met listing 14.08D2a, which requires evidence of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection in addition to HIV. According to the brief, the record is replete with evidence related to the woman’s chronic HSV. Second, she met listing 14.08N, which requires repeated manifestations of HIV resulting in loss of functioning. According to the brief, the woman suffered from fatigue, chronic leg pain, and night sweats, all of which affected her ability to work. The ALJ also failed to give proper weight to the opinion of the woman’s treating physician, who asserted that the woman was disabled, and improperly relied on the medical-vocational guidelines established to assist with disability determinations when a claimant does not meet the requirements of an SSA listing. Lastly, the ALJ failed to consider the disabling effects of the woman’s HIV medications themselves, a consideration required by the listing.