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Hall v. Berryhill

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 15, 2018

Curtis K. Hall, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued October 2, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:16-cv-938 - Marvin E. Aspen, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Kanne, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.

          Per Curiam.

         While loading chemicals onto a truck, Curtis Hall felt a sharp pain in his back. This back pain formed the basis of his application for disability insurance benefits. An administrative law judge denied his application, and a district court upheld that determination. On appeal, Hall contends that the ALJ improperly discounted his treating physician's opinion and discredited his own testimony. Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, we affirm.


         Hall, a tanker loader at a chemical company, was hooking a hose underneath a tanker truck in mid-2006 when he felt pain in his low back. His pain persisted so he saw Dr. George Miz, an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered an MRI of Hall's lumbar spine. After reviewing the MRI, Dr. Miz found that Hall had a large disc herniation at L-5 that was pinching a spinal nerve root. Dr. Miz recommended "conservative treatment," so Hall began physical therapy while continuing to work, and he reported progress from the therapy. As of November 2006, Hall was still experiencing "ups and downs" in terms of pain, and by December, Dr. Miz thought that any improvement Hall felt with his back had "essentially plateaued." Because the pain persisted, Hall and Dr. Miz began planning a lumbar microdiscectomy to relieve the pressure on his spinal nerve root.

         In March 2007, Hall stopped working and underwent the operation. The surgery was successful. Hall's back improved, and by June his range of motion during physical therapy had increased. He reassured Dr. Miz the next month that he had "slow but steady progress with physical therapy." By December, after an epidural steroid injection, Hall reported that his pain was "down to 2 to 3/10."

         Meanwhile, since the day of his surgery, Hall has received temporary total worker's compensation benefits. The record shows that Hall continues to receive these benefits to this day.

         In 2008, Hall's functionality continued to improve. In June he said that he could sit, stand, and walk for about an hour. Dr. Miz referred him to a physical therapist later that summer for a functional capacity evaluation, and a therapist administered a battery of tests before finding that Hall could return to work at the "light" level (meaning that he could lift 20 pounds infrequently, 10 pounds frequently, and carry 10 pounds or more). The tests also showed that Hall could sit for 15-20 minutes and stand for 30 minutes. The following month, Dr. Miz said that Hall could work within the parameters of the functional capacity evaluation, though Hall did not return to work.

         In September 2010, Dr. Hutchinson, an orthopedist at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, reviewed Hall's records and examined him in connection with his worker's compensation case. Dr. Hutchinson agreed with Dr. Miz that Hall could work at the "light" level, consistent with the results of the 2008 functional capacity evaluation. Dr. Hutchinson opined that Hall had a protruding disc, but that Hall could continue to work.

         One month later, in October 2010, a CT scan confirmed Dr. Hutchinson's opinion that Hall's disc was still protruding. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Miz performed a lumbar discography, a diagnostic procedure to determine if one or more discs was the cause of Hall's back pain. Based on the results of the discography, Dr. Miz concluded that the L5-S1 area was causing Hall's pain. In February 2011, Dr. Miz recommended that Hall undergo a "transforaminal interbody fusion" to stabilize his spine.

         Put off by the prospect of another surgery, Hall heeded the recommendation of his internist and turned for a second opinion to a neurosurgeon, Dr. Martin Luken. In June 2011, Dr. Luken recommended that Hall undergo a foraminotomy, a minimally invasive surgery to remove whatever was compressing his nerve root. Meanwhile, Dr. Luken proposed (without elaboration) that Hall be "off work."

         A few months later a state-agency physiatrist consultant, Dr. Barbara Heller, examined Hall and opined that he had persistent L5-S1 discogenic disease with persistent right L5-Sl radiculopathy. But because Hall's pain medications were working well, she determined that he could ...

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