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Adaire v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 18, 2015

JAMIE L. ADAIRE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee

Submitted January 20, 2015.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 3:11-cv-03149-SEM-BGC -- Sue E. Myerscough, Judge.

Jamie L. Adaire, Plaintiff - Appellant, Pro se, Springfield, IL.

For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant - Appellee: Edward J. Kristof, Attorney, Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, Region V, Chicago, IL; Gail L. Noll, Attorney, Office of The United States Attorney, Springfield, IL.

Before POSNER, KANNE, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.


Page 686

Posner, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal by an applicant for social security disability benefits. The district court upheld the Social Security Administration's denial of the benefits sought.

When the applicant was 15 years old, rods (called " Harrington rods" ) were inserted into his spine to correct a 57-degree curvature of the spine caused by scoliosis. Any curvature greater than 50 degrees is considered severe. The rods were partially effective. Although they greatly reduced the curvature of his spine (to 15 degrees), he developed--whether despite or because of the rods--chronic back pains. He turned out also to have cognitive difficulties, though they would not have been related to his scoliosis.

At age 20 he was determined to be eligible for social security disability benefits, but shortly afterward he obtained a job at a nonprofit organization called SPARC, Inc., which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He drove clients of the organization to and from appointments, helped them with cooking and cleaning, and performed clerical tasks. On the basis of this employment the Social Security Administration determined in 1999 (when the applicant was 32) that he was not disabled--indeed had not been disabled for the past eight years. The Social Security Administration tried to recover the $65,000 that it had paid him in benefits for those years; their attempt led him to declare bankruptcy.

Three years after he was found not to be disabled, SPARC fired him because he couldn't keep up with the demands of the job, and two years after that he reapplied for social security disability benefits. Several physicians and mental-health professionals examined him and diagnosed a variety of ailments: chronic back pain; cubital tunnel syndrome (also known as ulnar neuropathy) caused by increased pressure on the ulnar nerve, which passes close to the skin's surface near the elbow (the pressure causes severe pain); further pain caused by corrective surgery on the afflicted elbow; a somatoform disorder (a mental condition that causes pain that has no known physical cause); plus depression, anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, low intelligence, dizziness, migraine headaches, and deficient short-term memory. The applicant and his father testified to additional medical and psychiatric problems that afflict the applicant, such as sleeplessness, loss of balance, blurred vision, and abdominal pain.

Nevertheless the administrative law judge (Barbara J. Welsch) concluded that the applicant was capable of doing unskilled light work of a routine and repetitive character and therefore was not disabled. She based this surprising conclusion--surprising in light of the array of medical problems that we just enumerated--in part on written statements by one physician that the applicant had exhibited " near normal function when observed after he left our office" and by another that during the examination the applicant was seen to be able to move around " with ease and had a normal gait" and that he might be " having an exaggerated pain response." The administrative law judge discounted the opinions of both a physician and a therapist that the applicant suffers from panic attacks, because they had based these opinions on the applicant's say so; they had not " witnessed [his] panic attacks." She discounted another physician's opinions because " they are not supported by medical findings but appear to depend almost exclusively on the claimant's subjective statements and subjective presentation rather than on objective medi[c]al findings" and also because the physician was " apparently sympathetic" to the applicant.

Page 687

And finally she reasoned that if the applicant's account of his ailments were true he " would be seeking treatment for his extreme symptoms" and also would not have been " able to take care of his children." (His girlfriend, the ...

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