Disability for Social Security purposes is determined using a five step sequential evaluation process. At the second step, the adjudicator is supposed to determine if the the claimant has any “severe” impairments. To be severe, an impairment or combination of impairments must “significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 CFR 404.1520(c). While this step of the sequential evaluation process may seem important, in practice, the process of determining a severe impairment has been, in many cases, rendered meaningless.
For example, in the 6th Circuit, even if the ALJ fails to properly classify an impairment at step 2, a Court will normally find the error “not reversible” and irrelevant so long as the ALJ finds “some impairments” severe and continues the sequential evaluation process. Maziarz v. Sec’y of Health & Human Services, 837 F.2d 240 (6th Cir. 1987). Although there are exceptions, the Maziarz holding presents a major hurdle for the practitioner attempting to appeal a denial to a federal court in the 6th Circuit where the ALJ may have committed error at Step 2.