64 F.3d 335 (7th Cir. 1995), 95-1520, Wilder v. Chater

Docket Nº:95-1520.
Citation:64 F.3d 335
Party Name:Rosie WILDER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Shirley S. CHATER, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 29, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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64 F.3d 335 (7th Cir. 1995)

Rosie WILDER, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Shirley S. CHATER, Commissioner of Social Security,


No. 95-1520.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 29, 1995

Argued July 7, 1995.

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Barry A. Schultz (argued), Schultz & Winick, Chicago, IL, for plaintiff-appellant.

Carole J. Kohn (argued), Dept. of Health and Human Services, Region V, Office of the General Counsel, Thomas P. Walsh, Asst. U.S. Atty., Civ. Div., Chicago, IL, for defendants-appellees.

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and BAUER and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

POSNER, Chief Judge.

This is an appeal from a denial of social security disability benefits. The facts are unusual. In August 1986, Rosie Wilder, who was then 47 years old, was employed as an armed, uniformed security guard in a retirement home. That month, she won $2 million in the Illinois lottery, payable at the rate of $81,000 a year (the rest being withheld, we assume, for income tax). Later that month she quit her job, and she has not worked since. In the same month, she adopted a grandson whose mother (one of Wilder's daughters) was a drug addict. Wilder sought disability benefits in 1990, claiming that she had been permanently disabled from engaging in gainful employment since 1986. The date of onset is critical. To be eligible for social security disability benefits without having to satisfy a means test, which Wilder could not do because of her lottery winnings, the applicant must have been employed for 20 of the 40 quarters preceding the onset of the disability, and Wilder did not satisfy this condition after December 31, 1986.

On the basis of testimony by her, by one of her daughters, and by a psychiatrist appointed by the administrative law judge to evaluate Wilder's condition, the administrative law judge concluded that she was at the time of the hearing "severely disabled ... because of major depression." The psychiatrist testified that Wilder had become disabled by the end of 1986, but the administrative law judge thought not. He pointed out that Wilder's medical records did not mention depression or other mental illness, that the records referred to her having "retired" from her job as a security guard, that she probably would not have been permitted to adopt a child had she been suffering from major depression, and that her daughters believed that her condition had gotten worse in 1988 and 1989, implying that it was less severe in 1986. The administrative law judge thought that Wilder had probably quit her job because she had won the lottery rather than because she was disabled, though the psychiatrist had testified that the winning of the lottery, combined with adoption of the grandson, might have precipitated the major depression that he thought had begun by the end of 1986. In upholding the denial of benefits the district judge thought it significant that Wilder had been permitted to carry a gun by her employer.

The parties seem to be agreed that at the time of the hearing in 1992, and presumably today, Wilder suffers from depression so severe as to be totally and permanently disabling, so that if her eligibility for social security disability benefits depended on her current rather than on her past health, she would be eligible. It is true that depression is eminently treatable nowadays, by a variety of antidepressant drugs of which the best known is Prozac, see, e.g., Gary D. Tollefson, "Recognition and Treatment of Major Depression," Am. Family Practice, Nov. 1990 Supp., p. 59, and that a disabled person cannot obtain social security disability benefits if he or she refuses to follow a prescribed course of treatment that would eliminate the disability. Ehrhart v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 969 F.2d 534, 538 (7th Cir.1992). But so far as the record discloses, Wilder has never been prescribed a course of treatment for her depression. Nor has the Social Security Administration ever suggested that her condition might be treatable. In these circumstances,

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the possibility of treatment that would enable her to work is not a defense to the claim of benefits. Cassiday v. Schweiker, 663 F.2d 745, 749 (7th Cir.1981); Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1489 (10th Cir.1993); Fraley v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 733...

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