United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
Michael F. Dyer Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.
an action challenging the administrative law judge's
(“ALJ”) denial of social security disability
benefits to plaintiff Michael F. Dyer. See 42 U.S.C.
§405(g). Plaintiff alleges that back-related pain
prevents him from working a full-time sedentary job.
worked for many years in the maritime industry, where he
loaded and unloaded barges and tugs, regularly lifting 75 to
150 pounds in shifts sometimes lasting 14 to 18 hours a day.
R. 40. On November 20, 2009, he injured his back while
lifting one of these heavy objects. R. 43. He was then 39
years old and had never had any back problems before.
the injury, he tried physical therapy, but it did not work.
Dkt. #14 at 2 (citing R. 344, 346-359). He had several MRIs
and other tests. Then, on November 8, 2010, he had lumbar
fusion surgery that resulted in four screws and two rods
being inserted. R. 45. The surgery was performed because, as
the ALJ later noted in the opinion, plaintiff's
“lower back pain had not responded to conservative
treatment.” R. 18. After the surgery, plaintiff tried
physical therapy several more times. Over time, his pain
improved somewhat, although how much it improved is the
subject of dispute.
5, 2011, plaintiff had a functional capacity evaluation
administered by a company called ATI Physical
Therapy. R. 391. A month and a half later, one of
plaintiff's doctors (Dr. Herman) wrote a letter releasing
plaintiff to work a job consistent with the results of this
8, 2014, a hearing was held before the ALJ. In his opening
statement, plaintiff's counsel referred to the proceeding
as a “relatively straightforward case” involving
back pain. R. 37-38 (“it's essentially a pain
case”). Plaintiff then testified about his various
limitations arising out of his back pain.
11, 2014, the ALJ found that plaintiff, despite ongoing back
pain, could perform a sedentary job with exceptions such as
the freedom to stand or walk every two hours. The ALJ's
reasoning is discussed below.
argues that the ALJ committed two main errors: (1) the ALJ
improperly “played doctor” in interpreting the
objective medical evidence, and (2) the ALJ cherry-picked or
misinterpreted the evidence to reach various conclusions. The
Court agrees with these arguments, finding that there are too
many unresolved questions, ambiguous statements, and
inconsistent or incomplete explanations. In short, the ALJ
did not build an accurate and logical bridge from the
evidence to the conclusion. Berger v. Astrue, 516
F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008).
focuses his arguments on the credibility analysis. The Court,
therefore, will consider this analysis first and then will
consider the ALJ's discussion of the medical opinions,
some of which are also mentioned in the credibility analysis.
summarize a few key facts at the outset, the ALJ did not call
a medical expert to testify at the hearing. In the opinion,
the ALJ agreed that plaintiff had a severe impairment of
degenerative disc disease and that this condition could cause
the pain and limitations plaintiff allegedly was
experiencing. Therefore, the key issue was whether
plaintiff's allegations were believable. The ALJ
concluded that they were not-specifically, they were
“less than fully credible.” R. 20. The ALJ's
explanation was set forth in the following paragraph:
After considering the claimant's allegations and
complaints, the undersigned finds him to be less than fully
credible. While the claimant elected to undergo lumbar
fusion, the record indicates that he had no neurological
deficits prior to the surgery (Exhibit 18F/25). While the
physical consultative examiner noted that the claimant walked
with an antalgic gait, that he could not heel/toe walk and
that he had reduced 4/5 dorsal flexion of the right foot, the
record also indicates that he has full strength and sensation
of his upper and lower extremities (Exhibit 9F). While
straight leg raising has been positive on occasion, the
record indicates that the claimant has no accompanying motor
weakness or neurological deficits. This is consistent with a
finding that the claimant is able to perform work at the
sedentary level. While the claimant testified that he has
increasing levels of weakness of his hands, the record
consistently indicates that he has full grip and dexterity
bilaterally. After undergoing a functional capacity
evaluation, the claimant was released to work at the light
exertional level (Exhibit 7F). In addition, Vijay Marwaha,
M.D., the claimant's treating physician, opined that the
claimant is able to perform sedentary work (Exhibit 12F).
Therefore, the undersigned finds that the opinions of the
claimant's treating physicians do not support a finding
of disability. Even ...