Police Chief Loses Claim For Social Security Disability Benefits

Roger Wagner was the Chief of the Ossian, Iowa Police Department from 1977 until 2003. In November 2000, after suffering a knee injury, Wagner gained 40 pounds within a month. He was diagnosed with massive edema, as well as nephrotic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and hyperlipidemia. During that same month, Wagner underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

After leaving the hospital, Wagner returned to his job as Chief of Police. In January 2003, Wagner began suffering from shoulder pain caused by “impingement syndrome.” Eventually, doctors evaluated Wagner as unable to perform the duties of a police officer.

Wagner then applied for Social Security disability benefits, alleging that he was unable to work from the combination of all of his different conditions. The federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of Wagner’s request for benefits.

Under Social Security law, an employee is not entitled to disability benefits if he or she can perform limited sedentary work on a full-time basis. Wagner argued that the Social Security Administration erroneously disregarded opinions of his treating physician and instead inappropriately relied on opinions from non-examining, non-treating doctors.

The Court found that the Administration was free to give the various opinions of the physicians the weight it deemed appropriate. The Court noted that it had upheld a decision “to discount or even disregard the opinion of a treating physician (1) where other medical assessments are supported by better or more thorough medical evidence; or (2) where a treating physician renders inconsistent opinions that undermine his or her credibility.”

The Court found just such an inconsistency in the opinions of Wagner’s treating physician. In particular, the Court pointed to a 2005 opinion from Wagner’s treating physician that Wagner could perform all but some desk work with some limitations. Accordingly, the Court upheld the denial of Wagner’s application for Social Security disability benefits.

Wagner v. Astrue, 2007 WL 2403743 (8th Cir. 2007).

This article appears in the October 2007 issue