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Rohan v. Chater

October 22, 1996

DONALD ROHAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

SHIRLEY S. CHATER, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 95 C 1 Charles R. Norgle, Sr., Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, FLAUM and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges.

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED SEPTEMBER 10, 1996

DECIDED OCTOBER 22, 1996

Plaintiff Donald Rohan sought judicial review of the defendant Commissioner's predecessor's finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. secs. 416(i), 423(d)). *fn1 In January 1996, the district court granted the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, resulting in this appeal.

In September 1990, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on the ground that he had been disabled since June 30, 1989, because of a back condition. This application was ultimately denied in April 1991. Plaintiff reapplied for disability insurance benefits in August 1992, claiming depression and again a back condition. This application was also ultimately denied, and plaintiff requested an administrative hearing.

In February 1994, plaintiff testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge James A. Horn. His wife also testified. In June 1994, the ALJ reopened the agency's denial of plaintiff's original application. He decided that plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability or disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. As a result, in January 1995 plaintiff brought this suit seeking review of the adverse decision of the Commissioner. We reverse and remand.

Facts

When the ALJ issued his decision, plaintiff was 46 years old. He had a high school education and some vocational training and worked as a carpenter until he injured his back at work in June 1989. He had previously worked as a maintenance man.

As to his physical condition, a month after plaintiff injured his back, magnetic resonance imaging revealed a large herniated disk, a left extra foraminal disk protrusion and degeneration. In December 1989, Dr. Scott Mox, his treating physician, reported that Rohan's back condition had not improved significantly, so that he could not return to work as a carpenter and might need surgery.

In January 1990, Dr. Thomas McNeill examined plaintiff and found that his straight leg raising test was positive on the right, he had difficulty dressing and had a herniated disk. Work hardening was recommended. Subsequently, plaintiff enrolled in a work hardening program and was considered capable of exertionally light work although his back was termed mechanically unsound.

In September 1992, Dr. Samuel Goldman examined plaintiff and found that his ability to bend his back was significantly restricted and that his low back pain was secondary to a herniated disk.

As to his mental condition, plaintiff visited psychiatrist Dr. Michael Shapiro in March 1992 and complained of depression due to his back injuries. Plaintiff said that therefore he could not find a job and could neither stand nor sit very long. He also complained of sleep problems and dreams about Viet Nam. Dr. Shapiro diagnosed a major depressive disorder and ordered objective tests. In April 1992, Dr. Shapiro prescribed Prozac for plaintiff's depression. Dr. Shapiro's monthly notes recorded plaintiff's anger, difficulties relating to others including his wife, physical complaints, sleep disturbance and financial concerns but noted that he was engaging in the repair and sale of lawn mowers.

In September 1992, Dr. Shapiro reported that plaintiff's daily activities were very limited, he had a constricted field of interest, was withdrawn and was more irritable with his wife. However, the psychiatrist stated that plaintiff's anti-depressant therapy resulted ...


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