Battling for Benefits. Curran Antonelli Obtains Federal Appellate Victory for Pro-Bono Client Seeking a Reversal of Administrative Law Judge’s Denial of His Disability Benefits.

July 31, 2020

On July 29, 2020, Curran Antonelli, LLP obtained a successful reversal on an appeal to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts resulting from the denial of its client’s disability benefits claim by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). In the case,[1] our client, the plaintiff, was a single-father diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, which forced him to be physically unable to work due to the side-effects of his treatment method. Seeking assistance, our client filed for disability benefits, but repeatedly was denied at the administrative agency level, including a denial by an ALJ. Although the ALJ acknowledged that client’s and his doctor’s testimony highlighted the severity of the debilitating symptoms experienced by the plaintiff, the ALJ nevertheless found that the testimony regarding  the “intensity, persistence and limiting effects” of the symptoms were not “entirely consistent” with the medical evidence. The ALJ ultimately ruled that the plaintiff was still capable of working and not disabled, and thus denied the plaintiff his benefits.


Accepting this case pro-bono, Curran Antonelli’s Partner Peter Antonelli was appointed by Chief Judge Saris to represent the plaintiff in his appeal of the ALJ’s decision to the District Court of Massachusetts to appeal the ALJ’s decision  denying an award of the dutifully owed disability benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1382(c)(3). Working with Associate Christopher Marks and Firm staff to analyze the extensive administrative medical records, hearing transcript and underlying orders, Attorney Antonelli argued that the ALJ’s denial was unsupported by substantial evidence and that he did not consider the entire case record when making his findings regarding the plaintiff’s symptoms. The Firm argued that the ALJ ignored and failed to properly consider central evidence, particularly the limitations of the plaintiff’s physical condition and the testimony of the plaintiff’s doctor and the vocational expert, who noted the plaintiff’s inability to work in several scenarios. Moreover, the Firm contested the findings by disputing whether the ALJ could deny disability benefits on the basis of a credibility determination of an alleged “inconsistency” he believed existed between the medical records and the plaintiff’s testimony, given the lack of substantial evidence of such an inconsistency and given that the ALJ was not a medical expert to even discern one. 


In an extraordinarily rare decision, Chief Judge Saris not only allowed the plaintiff’s motion to reverse the ALJ;s denial of benefits but also affirmatively ordered that the benefits be granted. On granting the Firm’s motion to appeal, the Court agreed with the plaintiff that the ALJ’s finding of an inconsistency was not supported by substantial evidence given the credible testimony from both the plaintiff, his doctor, and the vocational expert about the plaintiff’s inability to hold a job due to his side-effects. Though the Court acknowledged the plaintiff reported more energy during his doctor’s visits, it that found this fact did not amount to substantial evidence of his being able-bodied compared to the other testimony which strongly denoted the plaintiff’s disability. In light of the substantial evidence of disability in the record, the Court uncommonly found that the only subsequent conclusion was that the plaintiff was disabled, and thus benefits should be awarded without further consideration. This ruling has a significant implication for our client, who after over a year of litigation and administrative appeals, can finally receive the deniability benefits he has been owed to support his family.


[1] Sullivan v. Saul, D. Mass. C.A. No. 19-cv-11436 (PBS)

Curran Antonelli, LLP is an experienced litigation firm with decades of deep and broad experience in successfully litigating cases in state and federal district Courts around the country. The Firm regularly handles a variety of complex actions including commercial litigation, bankruptcy disputes, and many other types of litigation.






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