Disability Insurance • Age Ranges • Social Security

Rodriguez v. Astrue, PICS Case No. 14-0211 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 27, 2014) DuBois, J. (9 pages).

Where claimant is six months and one day from 50th birthday, Social Security Commissioner must make individualized determination that age range imposed by disability law is appropriate. Remanded.

Plaintiff’s application for disability benefits was denied by the administrative law judge six months and one day before her 50th birthday. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that, because she straddled the borderline between two age ranges under the disability law, the ALJ erred by mechanically applying a regulatory age range without making an individualized determination that the range was appropriate in her case.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania rejected the ALJ’s report and recommendation, and remanded to the Social Security Commissioner.

The regulations describing age as a vocational factor create three age ranges: (1) persons younger than 50; (2) persons 50 to 54; and (3) persons 55 and older. For a person in the second category, an ALJ must consider that a claimant’s age along with severe impairment and limited work experience may seriously affect the ability to adjust to other work. An ALJ must make an individualized determination in a “borderline situation” because the assumption that individuals in certain age ranges have certain capabilities becomes unreliable and a more individualized determination is necessary.

At the time of the ALJ’s decision, plaintiff was six months and one day from her 50th birthday. This presents a borderline age situation that requires remand for consideration by the magistrate judge. Had the ALJ considered plaintiff to be in the middle range, she would have been found disabled. On remand, the ALJ must make an individualized determination as to whether plaintiff more appropriately fits into the first or the second age category.