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Knight v. Chater

May 24, 1995

BILLIE J. KNIGHT,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

SHIRLEY S. CHATER, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, *fn1

DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division.

No. 92 C 89--Sarah Evans Barker, Chief Judge.

Before FLAUM, RIPPLE and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 25, 1995

DECIDED MAY 24, 1995

Billie J. Knight seeks further judicial review of the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") decision to deny her disability benefits. The SSA denied both her initial request and her request for reconsideration. An administrative law judge upheld that decision on the ground that Ms. Knight was able to perform sedentary work similar to the work she performed in her former occupation. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. The district court affirmed the agency decision on the ground that it was supported by substantial evidence. Ms. Knight now appeals the district court's decision. She submits that she is entitled to disability benefits because the decision that she can perform sedentary work is not supported by substantial evidence, and the record demonstrates that there is no work in the economy that she can perform.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Ms. Knight was forty-six years old at the time of the administrative hearing. She had graduated high school, had completed a keypunch training course in 1976, and had attended truck driving school in 1982. She testified that, before 1990, she had held approximately twenty different jobs. Her past employment included operating a restaurant, feeding calves on a farm, working as a factory packer, supervising prison food services, driving a truck, and working as a clerk and keypunch operator for several businesses and offices. In April 1990, she claimed that muscle pain in her back and legs and a feeling of general weakness rendered her disabled.

The administrative record contains the following medical history. In November 1989, Ms. Knight complained of right thigh pain, fever, and pelvic discomfort. Dr. Gregory Sutton examined her at the Indiana University Medical Center and discovered a cystic mass on her anterior abdominal wall between two rectus muscles. The cyst was drained; no evidence of cancer was discovered. Ms. Knight underwent surgery again in July 1990 after complaining of further pain; multiple cysts were discovered in her ovaries, and a nodule was discovered in the sheath of the left rectus muscle. The cysts were benign, but the nodule proved to be metastatic adenocarcinoma. In response to a questionnaire by the Disability Determination Office, Dr. Richard Wiethoff, the surgeon, noted that, on the basis of an examination on August 1, 1990, Ms. Knight had healed well and did not report fatigue. He described her prognosis as guarded.

In August 1990, Ms. Knight also underwent several post-operative physical examinations by Dr. Charles Wolter, an internist and gastroenterologist. Dr. Wolter stated in response to the Disability Determination Office's questionnaire that Ms. Knight was easily fatigued. He also described her prognosis as guarded. In a detailed letter to Dr. Wiethoff, dated August 9, 1990, Dr. Wolter concluded that Ms. Knight was "a well-developed, well nourished white female in no acute distress at the time of this [physical] exam." R.12 at 134. Because the extent of the cancer had not yet been determined, Dr. Wolter recommended further tests and monitoring.

In December 1990, cancer was discovered in Ms. Knight's bladder. Ms. Knight underwent surgery. There was no evidence of metastases, and Ms. Knight was discharged by Dr. Karl McAleese. Dr. McAleese indicated that, aside from the cancer which was removed, Ms. Knight was in "good general health," and recovering well. He later wrote that, although Ms. Knight was totally disabled from December 3, 1990 through February 15, 1991, he found no evidence of residual functional limitations.

In June 1991, Ms. Knight underwent a colon scan that revealed a benign polyp. It was removed. Ms. Knight complained of painful spasms in her leg when she sat for too long a time or walked too much, and sought treatment from Dr. Harold Spencer. In July 1991, Dr. Spencer conducted tests which suggested that Ms. Knight had a degenerative disc disease in her lower back. He recommended rehabilitation exercises as treatment. On July 23, 1991, Dr. Spencer indicated, in his treatment notes, that Ms. Knight could walk on either heels or toes, had equal reflexes in deep tendon areas, and had no dermatographic loss of pinprick sensation. He recommended that she have a bone scan. On August 6, 1991, Dr. Spencer noted that Ms. Knight's bone scan was normal and recommended that she continue her back rehabilitation exercises. On August 20, 1991, Dr. Spencer completed a residual functional capacity assessment form which noted that, in an eight-hour day, ...


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