Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Hernandez filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in December 2016, reporting one sizable asset: a pending workers’ compensation claim valued at $31,000. To place that claim beyond the reach of creditors, she listed it as exempt under section 21 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/21, applicable via 11 U.S.C. 522(b). Two days after filing for bankruptcy, Hernandez settled the claim. Hernandez owed significant sums to three healthcare providers who treated her work-related injuries. The providers objected to her claimed exemption, arguing that 2005 amendments to the Illinois Act enable unpaid healthcare providers to reach workers’ compensation awards and settlements. The bankruptcy court denied the exemption and the district judge affirmed. The Seventh Circuit certified to the Illinois Supreme Court the question: Whether the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended, allows care-provider creditors to reach the proceeds of workers’ compensation claims. The court noted that Section 21 has been interpreted by bankruptcy courts to create an exemption for these assets; 2005 amendments imposed a new fee schedule and billing procedure for care providers seeking remuneration. The Illinois Supreme Court has not addressed the interplay between these competing components of state workers’ compensation law. View "Hernandez v. Marque Medicos Fullerton, LLC" on Justia Law

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DeCamp, age 55, has a history of depression, drug overdoses, and suicidal thoughts. She overdosed on medication three times in October 2007. She attempted suicide and was cutting her legs. She also has a history of alcohol abuse. In 2010 DeCamp complained of headaches, and an MRI revealed a tumor in her pineal gland, which secretes hormones that regulate sleep cycles. A neurosurgeon noted that the mass was benign. The district court affirmed the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The ALJ had made an adverse credibility determination and found that DeCamp would be off-task up to 10 percent of the workday. The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the ALJ failed to properly evaluation DeCamp’s limits with concentration, persistence, or pace. The ALJ focused her analysis on the doctors’ bottom-line conclusion that DeCamp was not precluded from working without giving the vocational expert any basis to evaluate all DeCamp’s impairments, including those in concentration, persistence, and pace. View "DeCamp v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Ray lives with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, kidney disease, degenerative disc disease, anxiety, and depression. When his conditions worsened, he began working gradually easier jobs, from janitor to forklift operator to bus monitor for children with special needs, until eventually, he gave up his employment entirely. An ALJ denied Ray’s application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits, finding that Ray was severely impaired by most of his physical conditions, but that the ALJ erroneously evaluated Ray’s symptoms and daily activities, misinterpreted medical evidence, and failed to ask why he skipped some appointments. he could perform his past relevant work as a school bus monitor. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The ALJ erroneously evaluated Ray’s symptoms and daily activities, misinterpreted medical evidence, and failed to ask why he skipped some appointments. Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s conclusion that Ray’s previous job was not a composite job. On remand, the ALJ should revisit her assessment of Ray’s mental impairment View "Ray v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Winsted was 42 years old when he applied for disability benefits, asserting an onset date of October 2010. Although he initially alleged he became disabled in 2005, two prior applications alleging this onset date were denied and deemed administratively final. Winsted suffers from multiple physical impairments, including degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and anxiety, mostly associated with his previous work in hard labor as an industrial truck driver, a highway maintenance worker, and an operating engineer. An ALJ denied benefits, finding that Winsted could work with certain limitations. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit remanded. The ALJ did not adequately explain how the limitations he placed on Winsted’s residual functional capacity accounted for the claimant’s mental difficulties; the ALJ did not consider Winsted’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace. View "Winsted v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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McHenry, a 49-year-old former hair stylist who suffers from several physical and mental disabilities, challenged the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits. The ALJ had concluded that, although McHenry suffers from degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia, she lacked sufficient medical evidence that the conditions were disabling, and that she was not credible about her limitations. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The ALJ erred by failing to have a medical expert review a consequential MRI report. The court rejected arguments that the ALJ improperly determined McHenry’s residual functional capacity by not accounting for McHenry’s anxiety-related limits on social functioning and limits in her ability to sustain concentration because of her medications’ side effects and by discounting McHenry’s credibility. View "McHenry v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Ross worked as a coal miner for approximately 30 years. He smoked cigarettes for almost as long but was able to quit after his first heart attack. Ross continued to work as a coal miner even though he suffered another heart attack and had difficulty breathing at work. Approximately six years after Ross stopped working in the coal mines, his breathing problems became severe. In 2012, Ross sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901. The Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board vacated a denial. On remand, the ALJ granted Ross’s claim. The Board affirmed. The Seventh Circuit enforced the decision. Rejecting a due process argument, the court noted the employer had the opportunity to argue its case twice before the ALJ and twice before the Board, including the chance to submit supplemental medical opinion evidence. A theory that something must be amiss because the ALJ changed his mind on remand is particularly unpersuasive here because the parties submitted five additional medical opinions after the Board’s second decision. Ross proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was totally disabled. View "Consolidation Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Neighbors is a skilled nursing facility participating in Medicare and Medicaid. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) determined that Neighbors inadequately addressed sexual interactions between three cognitively impaired residents and that Neighbors’ failure to act put the residents in “immediate jeopardy,” and issued Neighbors a citation and an $83,800 penalty under 42 U.S.C. 1395i‐3(h)(2)(B)(ii)(I). An ALJ and the Department of Health and Human Services Departmental Appeals Board upheld the decision. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that substantial evidence supports the Agency’s determinations and rejecting claims that the sexual interactions were consensual. The court noted findings that staff, aware of the sexual interactions, did not talk to the residents about their feelings about these “relationships”; did not document the residents’ capacity for consent (or lack thereof) or communicate with residents’ physicians for medical assessment of how their cognitive deficits impacted that capacity; did not discuss the developments with the residents’ responsible parties; and did not record any monitoring of the behaviors or make any care plans to account for them. Neighbors’ non‐intervention policy prevented any real inquiry into consent, except in the extreme situation where a resident was yelling or physically acting out. View "Neighbors Rehabilitation Center, LLC v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Hardy, a 55-year old man who worked previously as a maintenance mechanic, had a discectomy in 2005 and a lumbar spinal fusion in 2006. His previous application for Disability Insurance Benefits was denied in 2012. Hardy filed another application for DIB benefits, claiming an onset date of April 2012. The agency denied Hardy’s claim; state-agency doctors reviewed Hardy’s file and determined that he had postural limitations, could frequently lift up to 10 pounds and could stand or walk for six hours during a workday so that Hardy could perform light work. His treating doctors reported that Hardy was unable to work and that his “legs give out and he tends to fall.” In concluding that Hardy was not disabled, an ALJ determined that Hardy had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since his alleged onset date; that his conditions were severe impairments; that these conditions did not equal a listed impairment; that he had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with limitations; and that he could work as a wire assembler, assembly press operator, circuit board screener, or finish assembler. The Seventh Circuit vacated the denial of benefits. A treating doctor’s opinion generally is entitled to controlling weight if it is consistent with the record, and it cannot be rejected without a “sound explanation.” The ALJ impermissibly discounted the opinions of Hardy’s treating neurosurgeon. View "Hardy v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Ashby’s son was a member of his elementary school choir. In 2014 and 2015, the choir performed a Christmas concert at a local museum in a historic building. The building was not then accessible to persons with disabilities. Ashby, who uses a wheelchair, was unable to attend the concerts. She sued the School Corporation, alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132, and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court concluded that the Christmas concert was not a “service, program, or activity of” the Warrick Schools, nor was the concert an activity “provided or made available” by the School Corporation and granted summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, accepting the Department of Justice’s suggestion that when a public entity offers a program in conjunction with a private entity, the question of whether a service, program, or activity is one “of” a public entity is fact-based and that there is a “spectrum” of possible relationships ranging from a “true joint endeavor” to participation in a wholly private event. The Department’s interpretation of its regulations is a reasonable one that offers a loose but practical framework that aids in decision-making. Upon close examination of the record, it is clear that the event in question was not a service, program, or activity provided or made available by the School Corporation. View "Ashby v. Warrick County School Corp" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of disability insurance benefits to plaintiff. The court held that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision to deny benefits where the opinion's of plaintiff's treating physician were inconsistent with the opinions from other doctors, and the physician's opinions lacked detail and did not show that he knew of the functional capacity evaluation from 2008. Furthermore, the ALJ did not improperly discount plaintiff's own testimony where the ALJ found plaintiff not fully credible for many specific reasons supported by the evidence. View "Hall v. Berryhill" on Justia Law