Judge to Reconsider Disability Claim Based on Past Concussions, Which Were Previously Not Considered

Feb 3, 2017

A federal judge from the District of Massachusetts has granted a former hockey player’s motion to remand a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, which denied his claims for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The grounds from the remand was that the plaintiff has newly discovered medical evidence to support his claim.
Plaintiff Michael Eamon Brooks challenged the commissioner’s decision, arguing that “although the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Brooks underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor and has depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and substance abuse in remission, he failed to consider that Brooks suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), having been concussed ‘at least’ 15 times, and that he failed to consider the interplay between Brooks’ traumatic head injuries and his mental impairment.”
There was other medical evidence as well, all leading the court to order “a determination as to whether Brooks is disabled in light of the newly produced evidence.”
Brooks was born in 1976. He was 35 years old on his claimed disability onset date of July 1, 2010. He attended Boston College High School and Berkshire Preparatory School, where he played hockey. He testified at the hearing before the ALJ that he suffered repeated concussions as a result of playing sports in school. The medical records submitted to the ALJ consistently report a history of concussions at a young age from playing sports, and that he almost dropped out of high school in his senior year due to significant depressive episodes. He was, however, able to finish high school and attended four years of college.
On Dec. 16, 2010, Brooks was working a construction job when a “steel support beam” struck the left side of his face and head. He experienced drowsiness, headache, and vision changes, and went to the Boston Medical Center (BMC) emergency room later that day. “Brooks reported to BMC medical staff that he had a history of concussions related to playing sports,” wrote the court. “The emergency room doctor diagnosed Brooks with head trauma and ordered a CT scan. The radiology report revealed a ‘pituitary mass,’ unrelated to being struck in the head with the beam (an oddly fortuitous event for Brooks), and suggested that additional imaging be conducted.”
Brooks filed his applications for SSI and SSDI in October 2011, alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2010. After those applications were denied on initial review and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before the ALJ on Oct. 10, 2013. On Nov. 14, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Brooks was not disabled and therefore not entitled to the requested benefits. In March 2015, the agency’s appeals council denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the commissioner’s final decision in this case.
The plaintiff and the federal judge opted to remand the case back to the ALJ for “consideration of medical records relating to Brooks’ brain tumor and adequate development of the record so that the ALJ may consider the merits of Brooks’ claim that he was disabled due to his history of traumatic brain injury, brain tumor, and mental impairments.”
Elaborating, the court noted “that the record in this case was not adequately developed and that the development of a complete medical history was essential to a fair hearing.”
Michael Eamon Brooks v. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; D. Mass.; CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-11872-JGD, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160285; 11/18/16
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Steven M. Buckley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lawson & Weitzen, LLP, Boston, MA. (for defendant) Shelbey D. Wright, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney’s Office, Boston, MA.


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