Claude C. Britt, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee.
April 24, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15 C 10320 - M.
David Weisman, Magistrate Judge.
Bauer, Easterbrook, and Kanne, Circuit Judges.
Britt, now 55, applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income after a construction crane
toppled over and smashed his big toe. An administrative law
judge ("ALJ") granted Britt benefits for the period
beginning in March 2013, but denied him benefits for the
four-year period immediately preceding that time because he
could perform sedentary work. On appeal Britt argues that the
ALJ disregarded his testimony about his need to elevate his
foot, as well as an orthopedic surgeon's report about the
same, and gave too little weight to an agency doctor's
opinion that he could work for only 3.5 hours in a day.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, so we
affirm the judgment.
Claude Britt was working on a construction site in May 2008,
a crane crushed his right foot's big toe. An
emergency-room physician ordered an x-ray that revealed a
fracture in the tip of Britt's toe, as well as a
laceration-injuries that understandably caused pain and
swelling. The doctor removed Britt's nail, gave him a
tetanus shot, and instructed him to elevate his foot and
follow up with an orthopedic surgeon.
days later, the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Anand Vora, saw Britt
and opined that he could return to work in a week but in the
meantime should elevate his foot to reduce swelling. The
following week the doctor noted continuing pain and swelling,
but he added that Britt could return to work "walking
less than one hour a day in a seated job" and elevating
his foot as needed. (A.R. 627.)
then began visiting another orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul
DeFrino, who supervised the healing process. The swelling in
Britt's toe gradually subsided, and by September 2008,
Dr. DeFrino opined that Britt was ready for light-duty work.
Brian Toolan, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and
ankle disorders at The University of Chicago Medical Center
then evaluated Britt in November 2008 and concluded that
Britt should be able to return to seated "light"
work within three to four months. (A.R. 660, 656.) Dr. Toolan
noted that Britt's complaints of a hypersensitive nerve
were subjective in nature and that there were no discrete
objective findings to corroborate them. A month later, Dr.
Toolan again opined that Britt was capable of "light
duty work." (A.R. 821.) In January 2009, Dr. Toolan
declined to see Britt again to evaluate his suitability for
an inpatient pain-management program; the doctor clarified
that Britt had been offered a partial toe amputation but had
chosen not to pursue that option to treat his pain.
February 2009, Britt consulted Dr. Steven Kodros, another
orthopedic surgeon, who identified inconsistencies between
Britt's condition at his appointment and the other
evidence in the record. At Britt's appointment, Britt was
hypersensitive and had a significant limp, and yet in four
surveillance videos that were gathered as part of Britt's
workers' compensation case, Britt walked normally and
the following year, Britt's condition persisted. In March
2009, after undergoing a functional capacity evaluation, as
recommended by Dr. Toolan, a physical therapist cleared Britt
to work immediately at a "physical demand level"
that was characterized as heavy. (A.R. 750-51.) That month
Britt was fired, he says, "because of [his]
condition(s)." (A.R. 499.) By June, a certified
rehabilitation counselor concluded that Britt could work as a
security guard, telemarketer, or light manufacturer. By late
2010, Dr. DeFrino characterized Britt's pain as
persistent and opined that he could perform only sedentary
work because of his swelling, pain, hypersen-sitivity, and
2011, a state-agency physician, Dr. Bharati Jhaveri, reviewed
Britt's records and concluded that he could perform
medium work based on his ability to squat, ambulate for 50
feet unassisted, and move his ankles through their full
ranges. Britt had normal motor strength in all extremities.
Dr. Jhaveri characterized Britt as only "partially
credible" based on inconsistencies between the clinical
findings and Britt's denials that he could lift heavy
items and walk at the same time or that he could stay on his
feet for more than 20 minutes. (A.R. 178-82.)
mid-2013, Dr. Carolyn Hildreth, an internist, performed a
consultative examination and opined that Britt could work for
only 3.5 hours a day. She did not identify medical or
clinical findings to support this assessment. Dr. Hildreth
did note that Britt had an abnormal gait, required the use of
a cane and walker, had "severe difficulty" when
attempting to walk on his toes and heels, and that Britt
reported that he was lying down for eight to ten hours a day.
(A.R. 981-82, 986.) ...