496 F.3d 833 (7th Cir. 2007), 06-3930, Schmidt v. Astrue

Docket Nº:06-3930.
Citation:496 F.3d 833
Party Name:Lee Ann SCHMIDT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michael J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 08, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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496 F.3d 833 (7th Cir. 2007)

Lee Ann SCHMIDT, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Michael J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 06-3930.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

August 8, 2007

Argued May 4, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 05 C 741, John C. Shabaz, Judge.

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Frederick J. Daley, Jr., Heather F. Aloe (argued), Daley, Debofsky & Bryant, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Richard D. Humphrey, Office of the United States Attorney, Madison, WI, Yvette S. Sanders (argued), Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Region V, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee

Before POSNER, MANION, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge

Lee Ann Schmidt appeals the district court's order upholding the denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income by the Social Security Administration. Schmidt contends that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred by not giving controlling weight to her treating physicians' opinions, by finding that her testimony lacked credibility, and by failing to take into account additional limitations when questioning the vocational expert. We affirm.


Lee Ann Schmidt suffers from a series of health problems, beginning with a back injury that she sustained at work in November 1996. She sought treatment from T. Sunil Thomas, M.D., from January 1997 through March 1998. Dr. Thomas performed two surgeries on Schmidt's back, a left-side laminectomy and disketomy at L5-S1, and an anterior disketomy and fusion at L5-S1.

In May 1998, Schmidt moved to Oklahoma and continued her treatment with Jeffery Nees, M.D. On December 14, 1998, Dr. Nees stated that Schmidt had a normal gait, good bilateral heel and toe walking, and she showed "no gross deficits to my exam today." He concluded that Schmidt "ha[d] reached fairly maximum medical benefit, " and released her from his care with the understanding that she would undertake vocational rehabilitation. Approximately one month later, Dr. Nees stated that, in his opinion, Schmidt's existing ailments resulted in a 45% permanent disability. He further opined that Schmidt could return to limited employment on February 1, 1999, with the restriction that she not lift more than fifteen pounds at a time, avoid repetitive bending, stooping, or twisting, and that she be allowed to change position freely.

Schmidt returned to Wisconsin and to Dr. Thomas for evaluation and follow-up care. In November 1999, Dr. Thomas completed a Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development form indicating that Schmidt was able to work part-time, with limitations. Approximately two

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months later, Dr. Thomas opined that he agreed with Dr. Nees' assessment of Schmidt, including Dr. Nees' conclusion that Schmidt had been capable of working half-days (four hours per day) since February 1, 1999.

Two years later, in February 2002, Nathaniel S. Jalil, M.D., an internist/nephrologist, evaluated Schmidt. Dr. Jalil opined that Schmidt had "no significant past medical history except for depression[, ]" for which "she is on Zoloft." Schmidt reported to Dr. Jalil that she had a "history of pain in both knee joints off and on for many years." She also stated that she had been working at a new job that required her to stand continuously for four hours, which caused her to experience pain in both of her knee joints and her back. Dr. Jalil concluded that "[overall], the patient is doing pretty good." He prescribed an anti-inflammatory for Schmidt's sore knees, encouraged her to continue walking, and referred her to Scott E. Cameron, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon. Dr. Cameron evaluated Schmidt's knees and diagnosed her with bilateral hypermobile patellae with positive apprehension signs bilaterally. He also noted that Schmidt had no effusion, crepitance, tenderness, or arthritic changes, and her X-rays were unremarkable. Finally, Dr. Cameron recommended that Schmidt adjust her lifestyle to accommodate her knees.

In March 2002, Somsak Tanawattanacharoen, M.D., evaluated Schmidt for chronic low back pain. Schmidt told Dr. Tanawattanacharoen that she was working part-time with a work restriction due to her low back pain. In his examination of Schmidt, Dr. Tanawattanacharoen found no evidence of lumbar disc syndrome, no tenderness or muscle spasms, normal bilateral straight-leg raising, normal neurological functions, 5/5 muscle strength in the lower extremities, no weakness of the big toe muscles, and intact sensation along the lateral aspects of both feet. Dr. Tanawattanacharoen then prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. Later that month, Schmidt failed to show up for her first physical therapy session because she forgot about it, but she stated that she would reschedule after she returned from a two-week vacation if she was still having problems. Schmidt never rescheduled.

In July 2002, Schmidt called Dr. Jalil's office to request medication to alleviate her back pain, and Dr. Jalil prescribed Ultracet. Later that month, Dr. Jalil reevaluated Schmidt, who was requesting a doctor's note stating that she needed to live on a first-floor apartment in addition to pain medication samples. Dr. Jalil noted that Schmidt complained that she still was experiencing back pain that radiated down her legs stemming from her back surgery, and that she was taking medication that he prescribed to her to alleviate her pain. Other than her back pain, Dr. Jalil opined that Schmidt was "doing very good." Following his examination, he provided Schmidt with the note that she requested and some medication samples.

In July 2002 and January 2003, two physicians working on behalf of a state agency reviewed Schmidt's medical records.1 They concluded that Schmidt could perform work consistent with medium exertion. The state physicians noted, however, that Schmidt had postural limitations on some activities, such as stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling.

In February 2003, Schmidt returned to Dr. Jalil complaining about a recent flare-

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up of her back and joint pain. Dr. Jalil referred Schmidt to a rheumatologist, Marlon J. Navarro, M.D. When Dr. Navarro examined Schmidt a few days later, she complained of constant dull back pain, constant numbness and tingling in her left leg, increased stiffness in her lower back, intermittent ankle, wrist, hand, and hip pain, hypermobile patellae, and swollen knee and ankle joints. She also told Dr. Navarro that she was performing all of her activities of daily living, but she was no longer employed, and she was applying for Social Security disability. Dr. Navarro opined that Schmidt had a normal neurological examination with intact sensation and systematic normal deep tendon reflexes in both her upper and lower extremities. While Schmidt stated that it was too painful for her to flex her lumbar spine, Dr. Navarro found that her right and left rotation and flexion were normal. He further opined that Schmidt's sacroiliac maneuvers were negative, she had no spinal tenderness, and her total body examination did not reveal any swelling, restricted motion, tenderness, or instability. Ultimately, Dr. Navarro diagnosed Schmidt as suffering from joint and back pain, and, with the exception of her knee condition, Schmidt's pain likely was the result of early degenerative joint disease. He then recommended that Schmidt use different pain medications and referred her to a pain clinic for her joint pain.

Approximately one week later, Schmidt had another follow-up appointment with Dr. Jalil. Dr. Jalil noted that Schmidt complained of back pain and pain radiating into her lower extremities, especially on the left side. Schmidt further complained of difficulty bending over, sitting up from a supine position, and prolonged standing. When Dr. Jalil examined Schmidt, he found no focal neurological deficits and normal superficial and deep tendon reflexes, but her gait was slightly unstable, her leg raising was positive on the left, she had some spinal tenderness, and she had a slight sensory deficit over her big and second toes. Dr. Jalil reassured Schmidt that the pain in her back was due to osteoarthritis and her previous back surgeries, and noted that Schmidt had a generally benign physical examination. He noted that "[a]t this stage, not much can be done for her back pain[, ]" and he did not recommend any treatment beyond Schmidt's previously prescribed medications.

The next month, April 2003, Schmidt returned to Dr. Jalil complaining of numbness in her left leg. When Dr. Jalil examined Schmidt, he again did not detect any additional physical problems. He then referred Schmidt to a neurologist, Sarat Ahluwalia, M.D. Two weeks later, Dr. Ahluwalia examined Schmidt. Schmidt complained of chronic back and leg pain and new symptoms of right leg pain with radiation. Following her examination, Dr. Ahluwalia concluded that Schmidt was in no apparent distress and had only mild neck tenderness. Schmidt's motor examination showed normal strength in both of her upper extremities, but her lower extremity examination revealed mild muscle weakness, some decreased sensation, and brisk reflexes on her left side. Dr. Ahluwalia diagnosed Schmidt as suffering from low back pain with some radicular features and recommended that she undergo another magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") scan of her spine. Schmidt's MRI of her lumbar spine showed satisfactory post-operative changes, no defined recurrent or residual disc protrusion or bulging, and only mild facet degenerative changes and a possible cyst. The MRI of Schmidt's cervical spine showed a...

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