Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Lambert applied for Disability Insurance Benefits in 2012 at age 41 alleging disabling lower back pain. In 2004 discs in his lumbar spine had been surgically fused with a rod. In 2008 surgeons repaired the rod. In 2010 Lambert began experiencing back pain “most of the time” and had “intermittent” pain down his left leg that often caused him to fall. By late 2012 Lambert had tried steroid injections in his spine and pelvis, chiropractic care, medication, and physical therapy. Several neurosurgeons found the cause unclear; three said further surgery was not an option. In denying Lambert’s application, an ALJ concluded that Lambert suffers from degenerative disc disease that is severely impairing but not disabling, giving little weight to the most recent opinions of his treating neurosurgeon and discrediting Lambert’s own testimony about the severity of his pain and extent of his limitations. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The ALJ failed to explain why the treating neurosurgeon’s opinions were entitled to less weight than those of the agency physicians, rendered before some key medical evidence was compiled. The ALJ improperly relied on Lambert’s application for unemployment compensation to discount his credibility in seeking disability benefits; a claimant’s desire to work is not evidence that the claimant has embellished his limitations. View "Lambert v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Chavez, then 21, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent five surgeries. Chavez experienced depression and anxiety. She struggled to maintain concentration to complete simple household tasks and suffered from migraine headaches, back pain (caused by degenerative disc disease), and numbness in her feet and hands. Chavez had no prior work experience. In 2010 Chavez applied for Social Security supplemental security income. Chavez could perform only simple, routine tasks with significant restrictions on how much she could lift. The vocational expert enlisted by the agency to estimate the number of jobs suitable for Chavez testified that for one particular job there were either 800 or 108,000 existing positions but preferred the larger estimate. The administrative law judge agreed and denied Chavez’s claim. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The decision was not supported by substantial evidence; the ALJ failed to ensure that the vocational expert’s job estimates were reliable. The vocational expert offered no explanation for why his estimates (or his method) were reliable, instead reaching a conclusion by determining that the estimates yielded by an alternative method seemed too low. By affording such broad deference to the vocational expert’s chosen estimates, the ALJ relieved the agency of its evidentiary burden at the final step of the analysis, impermissibly shifting the burden to Chavez. View "Chavez v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Kaminski fell down a flight of stairs, suffering a head wound that caused a traumatic brain injury and a seizure disorder. He applied under the Social Security Act for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income 13 years later. The Social Security Administration denied his applications; the district court upheld the denial. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the administrative law judge improperly rejected his treating physician’s opinions. The treating physician’s opinions and the testimony of the vocational expert together show that Kaminski is disabled. View "Kaminski v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Britt, now 55, applied for Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income after a construction crane smashed his big toe in 2008. An ALJ granted Britt benefits for the period beginning in March 2013, but denied him benefits for the four-year period immediately preceding that time because he could perform sedentary work. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Britt’s argument that the ALJ disregarded his testimony about his need to elevate his foot, as well as an orthopedic surgeon’s report about the same, and gave too little weight to an agency doctor’s opinion that he could work for only 3.5 hours in a day. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision. View "Britt v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Britt, now 55, applied for Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income after a construction crane smashed his big toe in 2008. An ALJ granted Britt benefits for the period beginning in March 2013, but denied him benefits for the four-year period immediately preceding that time because he could perform sedentary work. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Britt’s argument that the ALJ disregarded his testimony about his need to elevate his foot, as well as an orthopedic surgeon’s report about the same, and gave too little weight to an agency doctor’s opinion that he could work for only 3.5 hours in a day. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision. View "Britt v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Stephens was born in 1957 and has a ninth-grade education. He worked as a taxi dispatcher and a security guard in the 15 years preceding his alleged disability. Stephens contends that he is disabled by diabetes, kidney disease, knee and back pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, and obesity. He was denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. On remand, a different ALJ determined that Stephens’ impairments, although severe, were not disabling and that he could perform relevant past work. The district court and Seventh Circuit upheld the denial, rejecting arguments that the ALJ erred by improperly evaluating Stephens’s obesity (no longer a stand-alone disability) when determining the aggregate impact of his impairments; that the ALJ’s finding that the record lacked medical opinion evidence as to Stephens’ hypersomnolence or excessive sleepiness; and that the ALJ failed to incorporate all of his impairments and consider their combined impact to evaluate his residual functional capacity. View "Stephens v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Stephens was born in 1957 and has a ninth-grade education. He worked as a taxi dispatcher and a security guard in the 15 years preceding his alleged disability. Stephens contends that he is disabled by diabetes, kidney disease, knee and back pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, and obesity. He was denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. On remand, a different ALJ determined that Stephens’ impairments, although severe, were not disabling and that he could perform relevant past work. The district court and Seventh Circuit upheld the denial, rejecting arguments that the ALJ erred by improperly evaluating Stephens’s obesity (no longer a stand-alone disability) when determining the aggregate impact of his impairments; that the ALJ’s finding that the record lacked medical opinion evidence as to Stephens’ hypersomnolence or excessive sleepiness; and that the ALJ failed to incorporate all of his impairments and consider their combined impact to evaluate his residual functional capacity. View "Stephens v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Akin, a 47-year-old woman, claims that she became disabled in 2011 principally from fibromyalgia, back and neck pain, and headaches. An administrative law judge denied her application for Supplemental Security Income. The Seventh Circuit remanded, based on Akin’s arguments that the ALJ wrongly discounted her allegations of back pain; improperly credited the opinions of agency physicians who had not reviewed all of the medical records, including relevant MRI scans; and ignored her complaints of headaches. The ALJ impermissibly “played doctor” by impermissibly interpreting the MRI results himself. The ALJ should have developed a more fulsome record about Akin’s testimony of pain before discounting it and improperly discredited Akin because of her conservative course of treatment. View "Akin v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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RTSI produces and maintains traffic safety systems. Rosenberg was RTSI’s Vice President of Sales. RTSI contracted to manage Chicago's automated red light enforcement program. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune published articles, disclosing an improper relationship between a city employee (Bills) and RTSI. The city removed RTSI’s bid for the new contract. The City Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated the bribery scheme. RTSI conducted an independent investigation and provided OIG with information. OIG advised Rosenberg that he had a duty to cooperate and that his statements would not be used against him in a criminal proceeding. Rosenberg described the bribery scheme between RTSI and Bills. RTSI terminated Rosenberg’s employment.The Tribune reported that RTSI courted Bills with thousands of dollars in free trips. Rosenberg sued RTSI under the qui tam provision of the City’s False Claims Ordinance, alleging that RTSI engaged in bribery and other illegal activities to obtain a city contract. The city intervened, making additional claims. The court dismissed Rosenberg as relator. The remaining parties settled and moved for dismissal with prejudice. Rosenberg unsuccessfully sought an award of a relator’s share of the settlement and attorney’s fees for his lawyer’s contributions to the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Rosenberg helped to perpetrate the fraud and referring to Rosenberg’s “audacity.” Rosenberg was neither the original source of the information nor was he a volunteer under the ordinance. View "Rosenberg v. Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Moreno fell off scaffolding and landed on his back while working. An orthopedist found a soft tissue injury but no signs of fracture. He continued to feel significant pain. A follow-up test revealed acute lumbar radiculopathy—lower back pain caused by compression, inflammation or injury to a spinal nerve root. Moreno also is diabetic, has high blood pressure, and is obese. Moreno sought treatment from a psychologist, who reported that Moreno manifested depressed mood, irritability, memory difficulties, inability to concentrate, and an ongoing inability to sleep, sometimes for days. Moreno took several medications. In 2007, Moreno sought Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. An ALJ affirmed the denial of his application. In the district court, the parties agreed to a remand to a different ALJ, who concluded that Moreno was not disabled although he was suffering from severe impairments and could not perform his past work as a drywall taper. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The ALJ improperly relied on an outdated assessment although later evidence containing new, significant medical diagnoses reasonably could have changed the reviewing physician’s opinion. Doctors’ notes set forth problems with Moreno becoming distracted, “spacing out,” and experiencing difficulties concentrating; these limitations were not included in the hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert. View "Moreno v. Berryhill" on Justia Law