Brace v. Saul, No. 19-2029 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Brace, now age 40, was injured on the job in 2013 and can no longer perform his past work in health service, food service, and construction. He applied for Social Security disability benefits, claiming persistent back and neck pain and several other conditions. An ALJ found that Brace’s severe impairments from degenerative disc disease, neuropathy in the elbow and forearm, and a history of surgery in his shoulder. did not presumptively establish a disability. The ALJ ruled that Brace could not perform any of his past work. A vocational expert testified that Brace could perform jobs as a callout operator, semiconductor bonder, or registration clerk, or a counter clerk, subject to restrictions and that a significant number of jobs exist across those job categories—an estimated 140,000. Brace’s lawyer asked the vocational expert to explain how he arrived at his job estimates; the answer was inscrutable. The ALJ nonetheless accepted his testimony and rejected Brace’s claim for benefits.
The Seventh Circuit reversed. The ALJ’s approach does not satisfy the substantial evidence standard. The court rejected the ALJ’s justifications that Brace’s counsel should have objected to the expert’s qualifications before he testified and that the cited jobs number was so large that “[e]ven if the methodology used create[d] a significant margin of error[,] … a significant number of jobs exist.”