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Murphy v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 22, 2014

KAREN MURPHY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee

Argued May 19, 2014.

Page 812

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 12-CV-3879 -- Young B. Kim, Magistrate Judge.

For Karen Murphy, Plaintiff - Appellant: John Edward Horn, Attorney, Tinley Park, IL.

For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant - Appellee: Jeffrey M. Hansen, Attorney, Office of The United States Attorney, Chicago, IL; Linda M. Januszyk, Attorney, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Region V, Chicago, IL.

Before ROVNER, WILLIAMS, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.


Page 813

Williams, Circuit Judge.

Karen Murphy claims that as a result of a stroke she has impairments so severe that she has not been able to return to her job as a secretary or work in another capacity. She applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB" ), but the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (" SSA" ) denied her application finding that she was not disabled. The Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) also agreed with the SSA.

On appeal, Murphy argues the ALJ's credibility determination was flawed because it was not supported by substantial evidence, and we agree. The ALJ erred by not questioning Murphy further about her failure to fully comply with her home exercise program and the activities she participated in while on vacation. Murphy also asserts, and we agree, that the ALJ's

Page 814

residual functional capacity (" RFC" ) assessment was flawed because it did not take into account Murphy's potential inability to do light work. Finally, Murphy argues that the ALJ inappropriately used the medical-vocational grids (" grids" ) to find her capable of working and we agree because the ALJ erroneously excluded from the RFC assessment information that should have been included. So we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


Karen Murphy was hospitalized after having a stroke on April 13, 2007. Before leaving the hospital, Murphy was examined by Dr. Joseph Mayer, who noted her past history of headaches and her diminished fluency in speech. Dr. Mayer noted that although Murphy could read a simple sentence, at times she substituted unintended words or phrases. He also noted that she had mild weakness on her right side, and a loss of sensation and proprioception (the ability to sense where her hand was in relation to her body without looking at it) in her right arm. Dr. Mayer recommended that Murphy see a physical therapist to help her rehabilitate.

Ten days after her stroke, Murphy started seeing a physical therapist who recommended a home exercise program to aid her rehabilitation, but instead of completing her physical therapy, she only attended two out of the four therapy sessions prescribed. The therapist recommended that Murphy be discharged from the program based on her attendance. It is unclear when Murphy returned to physical therapy, but on June 13, 2007, the same physical therapist wrote that Murphy had undergone seven weeks of physical therapy. Despite returning to the program, Murphy did not complete it and once again her therapist recommended that she be discharged from the program.

Dr. Mayer examined Murphy again less than two weeks after she was discharged from the hospital, at which time she complained that she felt light-headed, dizzy, and tired, and that she experienced occasional sharp pain in her right hand and spots in her left eye. At a follow-up visit on May 11, 2007, she stated that while her dizziness and light-headedness were gone, her headaches remained.

Two months after her stroke, Murphy met with Dr. Mayer who noted that her speech had improved, that her right foot was " essentially normal," but that her proprioception in her right hand remained poor. At the end of July 2007, Murphy saw Melissa Schultz, Dr. Mayer's physician assistant, and reported pain on the right side of her head. She told Dr. Mayer's assistant that she had recently returned from vacation and did not notice the pain while she was away. She also reported continued numbness and discomfort in her right forearm. Upon examination, Schultz characterized the decreased sensation in Murphy's right arm and hand as " mild" and " improving." Two months later, in September 2007, Dr. Mayer noted that Murphy reported that her left-sided headaches were better, but she experienced periodic numbness along the right side of her face that sometimes developed into headache pain. Dr. Mayer also noted that Murphy's speech had " significantly" improved. In April 2008, a year after her stroke, Murphy followed up with Dr. Mayer. He noted that Murphy still had difficulty speaking and " some significant loss of sensation." He also noted that Murphy suffered from almost nightly headaches, but doubted that they were related to her stroke because she suffered from headaches before her stroke.

On September 29, 2008, Murphy applied for disability benefits, but her application was denied ...

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