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Sims v. Barnhart

October 04, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 01 C 159--Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

Before Posner, Easterbrook, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manion, Circuit Judge


Linda Sims appeals from the district court's order upholding the denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") by the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). Sims contends that the decision by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ ignored or misstated significant medical findings in the record. We affirm the district court's judgment.

I. Background

Sims was born in 1952 and has a high school equivalent education. In the early 1990's she worked as a cashier, but stopped working in July 1995, allegedly because of migraine headaches, hypertension, difficulties concentrating, memory problems, anxiety, depression, shortness of breath, and chronic pack pain. Despite those problems, Sims worked at home in 1996 and 1997 as a part-time telemarketer.

A. Sims's Physical Impairments

Sims was first diagnosed with hypertension in October 1995 after complaining of migraine headaches and blurred vision. A doctor at Wishard Memorial Hospital ("Wishard") in Indianapolis noted Sims's elevated blood pressure and prescribed anti-hypertensive medication. A week later the doctor noted that Sims's blood pressure had "greatly improved," and Sims reported a decrease in headaches. Sims stopped taking her medication two months later because she allegedly could not afford the cost. In December 1996 Dr. Eugena Burrow documented Sims's elevated blood pressure and encouraged Sims "to follow up for appropriate treatment of her blood pressure." Sims did not receive any treatment until September 1997, when Dr. Kendrick Henderson noted her elevated blood pressure and prescribed anti-hypertensive medication. In the following months Sims's blood pressure remained high, and numerous medical reports indicate that Sims often did not take her medication as prescribed.

Sims went to the emergency room three times in April 1998 and once in August 1998, each time due to syncope (fainting). Sims's examination in August for syncope included a computed tomography ("CT") scan of her brain, which, according to Dr. Stacy Greenspan, revealed "generalized atrophy" and "focal areas of decreased attenuation" that were consistent with old lacunar infarcts. *fn1 The CT scan, however, revealed no acute abnormalities. Her discharge summary opined that the syncope episodes were most likely due to dehydration.

Sims's kidney problems were first recognized in May 1998 when she underwent a renal scan for her elevated renin *fn2 level. Dr. Henderson noted that the scan did not reflect the location of Sims's right kidney. During Sims's hospitalization a few months later for syncope, a CT scan revealed a normal left kidney and a small right kidney that appeared to "function somewhat symmetrically" with the left kidney. The discharge summary concluded that Sims's "small kidney may be contributing to blood pressure problems and even syncope" and that her "[i]ncreased renin may be due to possible renal artery stenosis of the right kidney." *fn3 The following month Dr. Hee-Myung Park concluded that a renal scan revealed a decrease in Sims's left kidney function from the previous May as well as a nonfunctioning right kidney. In early 1999 Dr. Harold Lenett noted that Sims's right renal arteries were completely occluded and that she had a single left renal artery with mild stenosis, which was "probably not clinically significant." Despite these kidney problems, Sims's highest serum creatinine level *fn4 was 1.4 mg/dL--only slightly higher than the normal range of 0.6-1.2 mg/dL. See The Merck Manual, supra note 2 at 1375.

At the request of the state agency, Dr. Angel Ablog examined Sims in May 1998. Dr. Ablog noted Sims's hypertension, found no problems with motor functioning, and reported that Sims's "gait [wa]s strong, steady, and fair." The following September, Dr. Henderson examined Sims and diagnosed hypokalemia (low potassium concentration in the blood) and severe hypertension related to renal artery stenosis. He concluded that Sims's hypertension and hypokalemia were controllable with treatment and warned Sims to avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities until her potassium and blood pressure were normalized.

B. Sims's Mental Impairments

In February 1998 psychologist J. Mark Dobbs examined Sims at the request of the state agency. He diagnosed "Major Depression, recurrent, mild" and "Panic disorder with agoraphobia (agoraphobia mild)." He noted Sims's poor concentration, but described her as cooperative and oriented. Dr. Dobbs documented no motor or neurological impairments, but noted that Sims complained of frequent headaches. Dr. Dobbs assigned Sims a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") *fn5 rating of 60. Three months later Sims was assigned a GAF rating of 70.

At the request of the state agency, psychologist Dr. Steven Herman evaluated Sims in December 1998. Sims underwent numerous psychological tests, and Dr. Herman concluded that Sims's IQ of 72 was "within the borderline range." Sims's reading, spelling, and arithmetic scores were consistent with her IQ, but her performance on the Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Battery *fn6 showed "very ...

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