Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Thomas sought disability benefits in 2009, based on sciatica, diabetes, angina, a trigger thumb in her left hand, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was morbidly obese. Thomas saw a consultative examiner, who noted a reduced range of motion in Thomas’s lumbar spine, hips, and knees; an x-ray appeared to show narrowed disc space. A state agency doctor determined that Thomas had the residual functional capacity to perform light work. At a hearing, Thomas testified that she could not stand for more than 15 minutes or sit for more than 20 minutes at a time and could only walk about half a block and could not do laundry or vacuum. When the inflammation was bad, she could not use her left hand at all. Thomas used her inhaler four times a day to control asthma. A vocational expert testified about Thomas’s prior work as a phlebotomist as heavy, semiskilled work, requiring lifting and moving patients and drawing their blood. The ALJ denied Thomas’s claim. The Appeals Council denied review. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the ALJ improperly discredited Thomas’s testimony and disregarded medical evidence concerning pain. View "Thomas v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Moore applied for Social Security disability benefits, alleging that she became disabled in 2007. An ALJ concluded that Moore suffered from a number of severe impairments, including migraine headaches, asthma, morbid obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis, and less severe impairments including irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypertension, hypothyroid and prolactin irregularities, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, anxiety, and possible Crohn’s disease. The ALJ found that she was, nonetheless, capable of performing her past work and not entitled to benefits. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The ALJ did not err in considering evidence that Moore’s emergency room visits may have been related to an addiction problem, but the ALJ erred in failing to even acknowledge contrary evidence or to explain the rationale for crediting the identified evidence over contrary evidence. The ALJ never related Moore’s specific limitations to certain impairments. On remand, the ALJ must make those findings and present the limitations to the vocational expert to determine whether Moore is capable of performing her past relevant work. View "Moore v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Before 1992, Chicago police officers received pension credit for time worked for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. In 1992, the Retirement Board began denying pension credit to retiring officers for prior service with the Sheriff’s Department. In 2008, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that this practice was improper under the Illinois Pension Code. Officers who had been denied pension credit sought reconsideration. The Board concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to reconsider the final rulings after the statutory 35‐day limit. The officers did not seek review in state court, but filed a federal suit on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated officers, alleging violations of procedural due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. and state constitutions. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the officers’ complaint is, essentially, that Illinois law provides no procedure for making the appellate decision retroactive Their sole remedy lies with the political branches of Illinois government. View "Rasario v. Ret. Bd. of the Policemens' Annuity & Benefit Fund" on Justia Law

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Phillips worked at CTA as a trucker for 22 years, until, in 2010, he visited CTA’s onsite health services department to report that his fingers went numb at work and to initiate a workers’ compensation claim. CTA had a written substance abuse policy that required drug testing in certain situations, including initiation of workers’ compensation claim. Refusal to submit to testing was cause for immediate suspension pending termination. An injured employee could receive medical treatment in the health services department and return to work without being required to submit to a drug test if the employee did not seek to initiate a workers’ compensation claim and the situation did not fall into one of the other categories for which drug testing was required. Phillips was advised that if he didn’t take the drug test, his employment would be terminated. He refused to take the drug test and was terminated for refusing to submit to drug testing upon his initiation of a workers’ compensation claim. Phillips did file a workers’ compensation claim and eventually received benefits. The district court entered summary judgment, rejecting his claim that his termination was retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Phillips v. Cont'l Tire Americas, LLC" on Justia Law

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Chhibber, an internist, operated a walk‐in medical office on the south side of Chicago. For patients with insurance or Medicare coverage, Chhibber ordered an unusually high volume of diagnostic tests, including echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, pulmonary function tests, nerve conduction studies, carotid Doppler ultrasound scans and abdominal ultrasound scans. Chhibber owned the equipment and his staff performed the tests. He was charged with eight counts of making false statements relating to health care matters, 18 U.S.C. 1035, and eight counts of health care fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1347. The government presented witnesses who had worked for Chhibber, patients who saw him, and undercover agents who presented themselves to the Clinic as persons needing medical services. Chhibber’s former employees testified that he often ordered tests before he even arrived at the office, based on phone calls with staff. Employees performed the tests themselves with little training, and the results were not reviewed by specialists; normally, the tests were not reviewed at all. Chhibber was convicted of four counts of making false statements and five counts of health care fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Chhibber" on Justia Law

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Pierce claimed that she injured her lower back in 2004 while moving cases of glassware at her waitressing job. She quit her job and sought medical treatment. An MRI showed signs of disc degeneration. She received chiropractic and electric-shock treatments to her back. She also took prescription pain medication. After her back improved, she started a new job at a café. In March 2006 (her alleged onset date for disability), Pierce re-injured her back to the point that she could no longer sit or stand comfortably, and she had to quit her new job. The injury disrupted her sleep, caused numbness in her legs, and prevented her from being able to sit, stand, lift, or bend for long periods. She could not work for more than five hours without pain. An ALJ found that Pierce, then more than 55 years old, was not disabled. The Seventh Circuit remanded for further proceedings, finding the ALJ’s assessment of Pierce’s credibility was flawed in several respects. View "Pierce v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Dalton worked in coal mine jobs from 1957 until 1991 and was exposed to substantial coal and rock dust. He developed trouble breathing; he quit his job and was never employed again. In 1999 Dalton sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901‐45. In 2003, an ALJ awarded benefits, finding that Dalton was a “miner,” that Frontier was the “responsible operator,” and that Dalton had established clinical pneumoconiosis, based on the opinions of pulmonary experts, but could not determine the date of onset of total disability, so Dalton’s benefits began in 1999. The Board vacated, finding that the ALJ had not properly evaluated CT scans. The ALJ again awarded benefits beginning in 1999. In 2007, the case was again remanded. A new ALJ reweighed the evidence and ordered benefits to begin in 1999. Dalton died in 2007. The ALJ denied a motion by Dalton’s children to substitute as claimant. The Board dismissed an appeal and a cross‐appeal. The District Director returned the case to its third ALJ, who allowed the children’s motion, modified the date for commencement of benefits to 1991, and awarded attorneys’ fees and expenses. The Board vacated with respect to the onset date. The Seventh Circuit remanded for entry of the 1991 onset date, rejecting a claim that the children lacked standing. Substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s finding that 1991 marked the time of onset for Dalton’s total disability on account of pneumoconiosis. View "Dalton v. Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Garcia, previously a construction worker and then age 40, applied for social security disability benefits in 2010, claiming abdominal pain caused by cirrhosis of the liver, severe low platelet count, hepatitis C, and an umbilical hernia, all of which had been diagnosed by several physicians that year. All were caused or exacerbated by alcoholism, but he stopped drinking and alcoholism is no longer a “contributing factor” barring him from obtaining disability benefits, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(C). An ALJ ruled that Garcia is capable of doing limited sedentary work. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that Garcia would be a candidate for a liver transplant, but was not on the list because he was too sick for surgery. His platelet count was too low to for even a liver biopsy. Garcia has been repeatedly hospitalized and treated for pain with morphine and other opium derivatives, with limited success. He has lupus, anemia, colitis, anxiety and other psychological problems, and chronic fatigue. One physician described Garcia’s condition as “chronic and terminal.” The court stated that Garcia is “one of the most seriously disabled applicants for social security disability benefits whom we’ve encountered in many years … We are surprised that the Justice Department would defend such a denial.” View "Garcia v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Bates has suffered from radiating neck pain since 2004, when a truck struck her car. Since then, she has continued to care for her six adopted children and dealt with the loss of her fiancé and her mother. As a result of the stress, Bates sought psychological and psychiatric treatment. She sought Supplemental Security Income. After her application was denied, Bates requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The ALJ denied her application; the district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for rehearing, finding that the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of Bates’s treating psychiatrist and improperly evaluated Bates’s testimony concerning her mental health. View "Bates v. Astrue" on Justia Law

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From 1978 to 2000, Cerentano worked as a coal miner. He was injured in 15 mining incidents and received six separate awards of permanent partial disability, but was able to return to work after each injury. In 2000 Cerentano was wrongfully discharged after a false positive drug test. Months later, he was diagnosed with depression due to his firing and treated for dysthymia and anxiety. Eventually, Cerentano found work as a real estate agent and a vehicle transporter. In 2005, Cerentano’s car was hit, causing more injuries. Cerentano was awarded Social Security disability benefits. He was denied disability pension benefits under the United Mine Workers Pension Trust Plan, based on the trustees’ conclusion that there was no causal link between his mine injuries and the award of Social Security benefits. Cerentano sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1)(b). The district court granted summary judgment to the plan. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The trustees should have examined all of the injuries, severe and non‐severe, that the ALJ relied on in finding Cerentano disabled and should have determined which of those injuries were caused by mine accidents and whether, the mine‐related injuries, in combination, comprised “a causal link.” View "Cerentano v. UMWA Health & Retirement Funds" on Justia Law