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There is a great expression that you sometimes see in federal court decisions that are reviewing Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) decisions. It goes like this: “The ALJ failed to build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusions.” See, e.g., Gaylor v. Astrue, No. 07-2206 (7th Cir. Sept. 8, 2008)(link opens a pdf).

The logical bridge is a polite, federal-judge way of saying that the reasons given in an ALJ decision make no sense, and do not support the conclusion reached.

You may see this expression in a federal court decision when the ALJ’s credibility determination fails to articulate why the claimant’s allegations of disability were contradicted by the claimant’s activities of daily living.

I saw this description of a claimant’s activities of daily living (ADLs) in a recent decision: 

In July of 2009, she reported that she was able to perform light housework, cook meals, and care for a small dog. She was able to shop in stores, drive a car, and visit with friends or family on a weekly basis. Such activities are inconsistent with a finding of total disability, and would rather suggest the ability to perform at least light exertion work.

Why do these activities suggest the ability to perform at least light work? The judge doesn’t say. Remember, light exertional work, in addition to lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally, requires a worker to be on her feet for most of a workday. That means up to 6 hours a day. See Social Security Ruling 83-10. Further, competitive work requires a person to work on a regular and continuing basis – 8 hours a day for 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule (Social Security Ruling 96-8p). So what is the logical connection between the judge’s list of activities and the ability to stand and/or walk for 6 hours a day for a 5 day workweek? There isn’t one. The ALJ’s decision provides no explanation.

The claimant, both in her Adult Disability Report and her hearing testimony, was very clear that her activities in a day varied dramatically depending upon how she was feeling on that particular day. On most days, she would be unable to perform many of the “daily” activities listed in the decision.

Judge Posner wrote about a similar situation in the Seventh Circuit case of Carradine v. Barnhart:

But there is a deeper problem with the administrative law judge’s discernment of contradiction. He failed to consider the difference between a person’s being able to engage in sporadic physical activities and her being able to work eight hours a day five consecutive days of the week.[citing cases] Carradine does not claim to be in wracking pain every minute of the day. When she feels better for a little while, she can drive, shop, do housework. It does not follow that she can maintain concentration and effort over the full course of the work week. The evidence is that she cannot.

Judge Posner’s opinion also summarized the case of Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1050 (9th Cir.2001), which noted that the claimant’s daily activities “did not consume a substantial part” of the claimant’s day, and that her ability to do those activities does not necessarily transfer to the work setting, in terms of the impact of pain. Therefore, the ALJ’s unfavorable decision was reversed.

When you receive an unfavorable ALJ decision for a claim that should have been granted, look for an explanation of why the claimant’s activities of daily living are inconsistent with her allegations of disability. Look for the logical bridge between the evidence and the ALJ’s conclusion. It is often missing, and that is cause for reversal.