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Bates v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 2, 2013

Carol BATES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Carolyn W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

Argued Sept. 26, 2013.

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Cody Marvin, Attorney, Barry A. Schultz, Attorney, Law Offices of Barry A. Schultz, P.C., Evanston, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Wayne T. Ault, Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Hammond, IN, James B. Geren, Attorney, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Region V, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before POSNER, MANION, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

Carol Bates has suffered from radiating neck pain since 2004, when a truck struck her car from behind. In the intervening years, she has continued to care for her six adopted children, and dealt with the loss of her fiancé and mother. These physical and personal stresses have taken their toll, leading Bates to seek psychological and psychiatric treatment.

Because of her mental and physical impairments, Bates sought Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ). After her initial application was denied, Bates requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The ALJ denied her application, and the district court affirmed. Because we find the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of Bates's treating psychiatrist and improperly evaluated Bates's testimony concerning her mental health, we reverse the decision of the district court and remand for rehearing.

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The proceedings underlying this appeal began in April 2007, when Bates submitted her initial SSI application. During the intervening six years, she has worked her way through the application and appeals process, which eventually brought her before this court.

A. Bates's Initial Application

In her initial application, Bates detailed the pain that had plagued her since the 2004 car accident. She stated that her herniated disc, spine problems, and arthritis left her in constant pain. At that time, she had not seen a doctor for emotional or mental problems that would have affected her ability to work. In an accompanying questionnaire, she explained that she could prepare a very simple meal, but that she did so rarely and that when she did her sons would open jars for her and she would rip packages open with her teeth. She further stated that while she could dress herself, she would often have her son tie her shoes. And she did not carry trash or grocery bags, or laundry baskets, because of pain in her arms. Her six adopted children would help her with household chores. Bates did not include any information about mental or psychological limitations.

Bates also underwent a consultative examination as part of the application process in August 2007. The examining physician, Dr. Stanley Rabinowitz, described Bates as " basically at home" because she had been told not to drive and could no longer play golf or tennis. He reported that Bates said she lifted nothing heavier than two or three pounds, that she occasionally cooked, and that her daughter helped with shopping and cleaning. Dr. Rabinowitz also noted that Bates could walk " perhaps a mile" in the morning and again in the evening and tried to do so for physical activity. Upon examination, he found no evidence of joint inflammation or paravertebral muscle spasm and described Bates's range of motion as within normal limits. Bates had no trouble getting on and off the examining table and could squat with moderate difficulty.

A consultative physician, Dr. Frank Jimenez, then reviewed Bates's medical records and filled out a Residual Functional Capacity (" RFC" ) assessment form. He did not personally examine Bates. After reviewing the records, he opined that Bates could occasionally lift and/or carry twenty pounds, and could stand or sit for six hours each in an eight-hour work day. He acknowledged that straightening of her cervical spine suggested muscle spasm, but found only one postural limitation: she could only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.

B. Bates's Medical Records

Bates's submitted records stretch from 2004, when the pain in her neck began, to late 2009.[1] Although her first MRI found multiple levels of disc protrusion, it found no flattening of the cervical cord or significant spinal stenosis. A second MRI in February 2006 demonstrated that her condition had worsened; at this time, she had disc herniation and borderline central canal stenosis. Her then-primary care physician, Dr. Debra Killingsworth, diagnosed her with cervical radiculopathy, a condition that refers to diseased nerve roots in the neck. Radiculopathy , Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (32d ed.2012). At several times, Bates reported having pain that was a ten on a scale from one to ten. Dr. Killingsworth referred her to a pain management clinic where she received a cervical epidural shot that helped with the

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pain for about nine days. Additional shots were abandoned because Bates had some paralysis on her right side after the shot. In 2007, Bates began using a TENS unit.[2] This provided some relief, although Bates continued to complain about her chronic pain. Over the next two years, she visited Dr. Katrina Cordero, her new primary care physician, a number of times for pain treatment. In December 2008, Dr. Cordero noted that Bates's pain was relatively well-controlled, but the pain returned in earnest throughout 2009. At times, Bates said the pain radiated all the way down to her ankles.

Bates's medical records also reference a right volar wrist ganglion, which she first sought treatment for in 2008. Although surgery was ...

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