United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
Patrick D. Kallenbach, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.
Patrick D. Kallenbach brings this action under 42 U.S.C.
§405(g), challenging the denial of social security
disability benefits. At issue is whether the administrative
law judge was justified in discounting plaintiff's
allegations of persistent and severe back pain.
2012, plaintiff filed his disability applications, claiming
back pain as his chief complaint. He was then 48 years old and
had worked for a number of years as a fork truck operator,
truck loader, and general laborer, among other jobs,
including a ten-year stint as a body shop mechanic and a five
year stint as a laborer in a warehouse. R. 206, 258.
September 19, 2014, a hearing was held before the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”).
testified about how his ongoing pain would make it difficult
to work. To quote from one of several descriptions, plaintiff
stated the following:
Well, I've been having just terrible hip and back pain,
numbness, and when I go to lift my leg up some of the times,
my leg won't lift high enough and I'll trip on steps
and sometimes rocks. Just a terrible back pain, shoots down
my legs, down to my feet and sometimes straight up my back
and my muscles tighten up so tight from all that it gives me
headaches, just terrible pain, back pain and leg pain.
Constant pretty much, I'm in pain 24/7, sometimes it gets
really bad where I have to try to crawl. There's been
times when I tried to call and stand up just to go to the
bathroom and can't do it. It's just terrible. It gets
37-38. He testified that he even had pain while sitting and
that it intrudes while he is doing tasks. R. 42, 45 (he
cannot “watch one movie without getting up or hurting
so bad”). The ALJ asked plaintiff whether his doctor
had recommended surgery or other treatments, and plaintiff
stated that his doctor “mentioned surgery” and
was “talking about sending [him] to a pain doctor and
then a neurologist.” R. 47.
Ronald Semerdjian testified as the impartial medical
expert. His testimony proved to be central to the
ALJ's decision. Although Dr. Semerdjian acknowledged that
plaintiff's back symptoms had existed “for a long
period of time, ” he also noted that
“[w]hat's absent is a pattern of physical findings,
objective physical findings.” R. 50. He then reviewed
the medical record in some detail, pointing out many normal
or mild findings on exams or tests, such as plaintiff being
able to walk 50 feet without any assistive device and having
a normal heel to toe gait. He also noted that there were some
abnormal findings, such as limitation in range of motion of
the lumbar spine and some positive straight leg raising
tests. His conclusion was as follows:
I think [plaintiff] would be capable of sitting six of eight
hours, standing and walking, if I went purely on the
neurologic exams, I'd have to give him six of eight. If I
include the history, I'd have to say two of eight.
R. 54. There was a brief follow-up by about the second half
of the opinion and the reference to plaintiff's
“history.” Dr. Semerdjian stated that
plaintiff's ongoing pain was “just something not
supported by significant objective evidence.” R. 54.
counsel then asked Dr. Semerdjian about the opinion of Dr.
Julio Santiago, plaintiff's treating physician in 2014,
who completed a two-page form opining about various
limitations of plaintiff (e.g. missing four days a
month of work) that, if credited, would mean that plaintiff
was disabled. Dr. Semerdjian identified two points of
disagreement. First, he believed that Dr. Santiago
overestimated plaintiff's lifting abilities. Unlike Dr.
Santiago, Dr. Semerdjian believed that, “if [plaintiff
has] that much discomfort in his back, lifting 50 pounds
occasionally and 25 frequently  is beyond his
capacity.” R. 58. Second, he noted that Dr. Santiago
listed lumbar disc disease as plaintiff's impairment but
then claimed that plaintiff had fingering and handling
limitations. Dr. Semerdjian explained: “I can't
draw any relationship between lumbar disc disease and
compromise in one's ability to feel, handle.” R.
November 24, 2014, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. The
ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of
“degenerative disc disease; bilateral osteoarthritis of
the hips; [and] allegations of chronic pain and
obesity.” R. 12. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity to do light work. The basic
theory, espoused by both the ALJ and Dr. Semerdjian, was that
plaintiff's claim of “extreme pain” was
“disproportionate” to the “generally mild
to moderate diagnostic findings with ...