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Herrmann v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 4, 2014

MICHELE A. HERRMANN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee

Argued: October 28, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:12-cv-00229-JEM-- John E. Martin, Magistrate Judge.

For Michele A. Herrmann, Plaintiff - Appellant: Barry Schultz, Attorney, Law Offices of Barry A. Schultz, P.C., Evanston, IL.

For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant - Appellee: Eric Truett, Attorney, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Region V, Chicago, IL; Tina L. Nommay, Attorney, Office of The United States Attorney, Fort Wayne, IN.

Before BAUER, POSNER, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.


Posner, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff (we'll call her the applicant) applied for Supplemental Security Income, which is a benefit for which low-income people who are aged, blind, or disabled are eligible. She was turned down by an administrative law judge of the Social Security Administration for the benefit she sought for years before she turned 55. But because of the less demanding showing of disability required of applicants that age and older, she was deemed to have become disabled when she reached 55. She appealed the partial denial unsuccessfully, first to the appeals council of the Social Security Administration and then to the district court, and she now appeals to us.

Page 1111

The applicant's treating physicians, together with three consultative physicians selected by the Social Security Administration who examined the applicant and studied her medical records, advised the administrative law judge that she suffers from fibromyalgia, spinal disk disease, " photo-phobia" (abnormal sensitivity to light), and other ailments unnecessary to discuss, and that as a result she walks haltingly, has difficulty gripping objects, experiences difficulty in rising from a sitting position, has trouble concentrating in a bright room or when looking at a computer screen, and as a result of this assemblage of impairments cannot do even light work on a full-time basis. If this is right she was disabled before she turned 55 and is therefore entitled to a back payment of Supplemental Security Income.

" Light work" is defined by the Social Security Administration as work that " involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567. This is a pretty precise description of the type of work that, according to the findings by the doctors regarding the applicant's physical limitations, she can't perform.

But the administrative law judge brushed aside the physicians' findings. Typical was his statement that the opinion of Dr. Dauscher, one of the applicant's treating physicians, would be " given no significant weight, because the functional limitations are not supported by Dr. Dauscher's sparse treatment statement notes or by examination findings made by other physicians." The administrative law judge seems to have thought that a physician's evidence can be disregarded unless he has detailed notes to back it up and other physicians provide identical evidence even if they don't contradict him--in other words no credibility without corroboration. These are insufficient grounds for disbelieving the evidence of a qualified professional.

The administrative law judge discussed at greatest length the evidence of Dr. Michael Holton, one of the consultative physicians, saying that Holton had

diagnosed fibromyalgia and lumbar degenerative disk disease. No sensory deficits were noted, and manipulative abilities were normal. Dr. Holton ... opined that the claimant can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally but would be " unlikely" to be able to work eight hours a day. He also indicated that the claimant would be able to do only occasional reaching, handling, and fingering. This opinion is [to be] given little weight, except as to the lifting limitations, because Dr. Holton's examination findings of 5/5 muscle strength, normal sensation and normal manipulative abilities are not consistent with his assessment that the claimant cannot sustain sitting, standing and walking for eight hours and has limitations regarding reaching, handling and fingering. ... ...

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