Step 4 explores a person's ability to
perform work you have done in the past 15 years, despite their physical or
It does not matter at Step 4 if the claimant's former employer would not hire them, or if the place where the person worked is no
longer in business, or if all those jobs are now done in China.
If the Social Security Administration finds that the claimant can still
perform his past relevant work, benefits are denied. The
process proceeds to the 5th and final step.
Consider this recent case where the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected denial of disabled woman’s benefits.
Heather Browning claimed she was intellectually and physically disabled. She has an IQ of 68 and suffers from a disease that limits the movement of her left leg.
The 7th Circuit faulted the ALJ for concluding Browning’s IQ score was invalid and that she actually had higher mental faculties because she was assessed as being sarcastic.
“The administrative law judge thought the fact that the plaintiff goes to ‘bars and clubs,’ does some cooking and shopping, helps care for a pet, watches television, and ‘only takes over-the-counter pain medications,’ showed that she can do at least sedentary work,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in Heather Browning v. Carolyn W. Colvin, 13-3836.
“He suggested (probably on the basis of her not using prescription painkillers) that she had outgrown the effects of the Legg-Calve-Perthes disease that she had had as a child and that her current problems with her left leg were the result of her obesity. (But so what? The issue is the disabling effect of those problems.)”
The appellate court asserted the administrative law judge committed an error by instructing the Vocation Expert (VE) to assume Browning could perform sedentary work.
Pointing to O’Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 620 (7th Cir. 2010), Judge Posner wrote the VE could not determine Browning’s ability to work because the judge would not let her consider several of the claimant’s limitations.
Also, the 7th Circuit questioned how many jobs would be available in Chandler for Browning and noted the judge’s conclusion that Browning could work as a “hand packer” is not a job that exists in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
This was the Case of Heather Browning v. Carolyn W. Colvin, 13-3836.
(By Marilyn Odendahl)