Health Law Clinic Students Secure Two Big Spring Semester Wins

Graduating 3Ls, Saleha Vandal, Bethany Fisher, and Ryan Adam Davis secured wins for their clients in Pitt Law's Health Law Clinic during the Spring 2016 semester. In both cases, the students’ clients were parents of disabled youth, appealing the denials of their child’s supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.

All three students worked together in a case on behalf of the parent of a twelve year-old boy with severe asthma. The Social Security Administration (SSA) stopped benefits to the boy’s family because the agency felt that his condition had improved. Vandal and Fisher combed through several years of prescription drug records to make the case that, despite the fact that the child no longer required frequent visits to the emergency room, his condition continued to be severe. Davis joined the advocacy team late in the semester, yet delivered a strong opening statement at the appeals hearing, alerting the Administrative Law Judge to the important facts his colleagues had uncovered.

While the hearing was held in the fall, the favorable decision was not issued until late January. “Statistically, the odds were against us… It’s so validating that the judge agreed with our arguments in his decision,” says Fisher. Their client continued to receive benefits and was not required to pay back the benefits issued while the appeal was pending.

Fisher and Davis repeated their success in a hearing for a nine year-old girl with severe Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD). Acknowledging that the child’s condition did not meet the strict regulation-based definition for ADHD, the students advanced a theory that the child was extremely limited by the disorder in her home and school life. At the appeals hearing before the SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, the students elicited testimony that the little girl’s limitations were so extreme that they were the functional equivalent of the disability.

Fisher and Davis won the appeal, securing future benefits payments for their client, and the little girl was found to be entitled to over $15,000 in back benefits.

“Getting an ‘A’ in a law school class doesn’t compare to the sense of accomplishment you feel after winning for your client,” says Davis. “Especially,” he added, “when you know how much they are depending on you.”

The Health Law Clinic is a medical-legal partnership between the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Law students participating in the clinic take cases involving childhood SSI benefits, special education advocacy, and guardianships to meet the needs of patient families receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital. 

Referred Person: