Herron v. Shalala

Decision Date21 March 1994
Docket NumberNo. 92-1544,92-1544
Citation19 F.3d 329
Parties, Unempl.Ins.Rep. CCH (P) 17739A Kelcie HERRON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Donna E. SHALALA, * Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Barry A. Schultz, Schultz & Winick, Chicago, IL (argued), for Kelcie Herron.

Susan Smith Ross (argued), Dept. of Health and Human Services, Region V, Office of Gen. Counsel, James G. Hoffnagle, Office of U.S. Atty., Chicago, IL, for Donna E. Shalala.

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

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Kelcie Herron appeals from the district court order affirming the denial of disability

benefits by the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("the Secretary"). Herron applied for benefits in 1987 and was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") also denied benefits. On review, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ to discuss the credibility of Herron's complaints of pain and to consider the effect of that pain on his ability to function. In addition, the ALJ was to obtain evidence from a vocational expert ("VE") regarding the types and number of jobs available in the national economy that Herron could perform. Upon rehearing, the ALJ again denied Herron's application, concluding that despite certain limitations on Herron's ability to work, there were significant jobs in the national economy that he could perform. Herron contests that conclusion.

BACKGROUND

Herron suffers from lung disease. He worked for approximately 20 years as a punch press operator and as a group leader at a steel container manufacturing company before he became ill.

Herron testified that he suffered shortness of breath and constant chest and back pain, exacerbated when breathing, reaching, bending, lifting, and talking. He claims that his chest pain is aggravated by extreme temperatures, smoke, dust, and air conditioning. In addition, his fingers crimp so that he has difficulty picking up small objects. He takes Indomethacin 1 to relieve the pain but the medication makes him weak and drowsy for three hours thereafter. Herron normally naps during the day. Barbara Herron's testimony corroborated her husband's complaints. She stated that his chest often hurts, he has difficulty breathing, he lays down all the time, and he is no longer able to perform household tasks such as mowing the lawn.

Herron's physician, Dr. Antanas G. Razma, diagnosed Herron's illness as interstitial lung disease with mild dyspnea 2 upon exertion, and mild coughing. Although Herron could work, Dr. Razma concluded that exposure to the chemicals at Herron's workplace would worsen his condition. Two assessments of Herron's residual functional capacity ("RFC") found that he should avoid exposure to chemical fumes and excessive pulmonary irritants.

Dr. Julian Freeman, who testified as a medical expert, disagreed with Dr. Razma's diagnosis. He stated that Herron's pain was not medically compatible with an ordinary lung infection, blood clot or pleurisy but was more consistent with sarcoidosis or scleroderma. 3 At Herron's stage of the disease and with partial steroidal treatment, Dr. Freeman observed that people could usually function at the light exertional level as long as the work did not involve repeated fine manipulations with the hand and fingers.

                However, Dr. Freeman noted that the amount of pain experienced varies from one individual to another, and that Herron would have experienced an increase in pain after his treating physicians eliminated Prednisone. 4  Herron's treating physician changed his medication after he suffered side effects from the Prednisone
                

After the first hearing, Dr. Freeman submitted an updated opinion. Because there was clinical evidence of "relatively early pulmonary hypertension 5 ", he concluded that Herron should be limited to lifting 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, pushing or pulling 20 pounds, occasional climbing, and comparable limits on carrying. 6 Also, Herron could walk or stand up to six hours and had no other impairments regarding crouching, stooping or upper limb use. However, he would need a respirator to protect against exposure to airborne irritants. Finally, Dr. Freeman commented:

While the general comments made about pulmonary fibrosis are reasonable medically, the results of the CO diffusion studies and ... [other] studies ... in the record indicate the lack of any major defect in oxygen delivery to the blood, and the lack of a reasonable basis to the exertional dyspnea, fatigue, weakness, etc., alleged due to underlying lung disease.... [T]he exertional levels attained in the previous exercise testing are inconsistent with the allegations of both pain and shortness of breath ... to the degree alleged.

At the second hearing, the ALJ asked the VE to describe light work 7 that could be performed by a hypothetical person of Herron's age, education, and work experience, with the same medical complaints and need to avoid polluted environments. The VE stated that such a person could work as a hand packager, light assembly worker, or security guard and that 40,000 such jobs existed in the Chicago area. Breathing difficulties, restricted arm movement, and limited hand use would significantly affect Herron's ability to perform the packaging and assembly jobs, and no positions existed if the VE considered Herron's inability to work in an air-conditioned environment or need to lie down for several hours each day.

The ALJ concluded that Herron possibly had sarcoidosis or scleroderma, as well as early pulmonary hypertension. These impairments, either individually or collectively, did not meet or equal any conditions in the Listing of Impairments at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (1990). Furthermore, Herron's complaints of pain were neither supported by the objective evidence and testimony nor disabling in nature. The ALJ rejected Herron's alleged inability to work in air-conditioned environments, and found Herron's statements about the need to lie down several hours unbelievable. He concluded that Herron has the residual functional capacity to perform light work in nonpolluted environments and that a significant number of jobs existed in the Chicago area according to the VE. Since Herron could perform these jobs, the ALJ held that Herron did not have a disability pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. Secs. 416(i), 423. The Appeals Council denied review, and the district court affirmed. We affirm in part and remand in part.

DISCUSSION

Because the Appeals Council found no basis for further review, the ALJ's findings constitute the final decision of the Secretary. 20 C.F.R. Sec. 404.981; Jones v. Shalala Herron argues that the Secretary failed to meet her burden of proving the existence of significant numbers of jobs that he could perform. 8 Specifically, Herron attacks the ALJ's failure to consider his alleged loss of fine motor control, to credit his sensitivity to air-conditioned environments, and to consider the side effects of his medication. Also, he claims that the ALJ should not have based his decision on the grid, that the hypothetical question to the VE was inadequate, and that the ALJ failed to consider his wife's testimony.

10 F.3d 522, 523 (7th Cir.1993). We will affirm the Secretary's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 480 (7th Cir.1993). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Dray v. Railroad Retirement Bd., 10 F.3d 1306, 1310 (7th Cir.1993) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). Although we review the entire record, we may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our own judgment for that of the Secretary. Jones, 10 F.3d at 523; Clark v. Sullivan, 891 F.2d 175, 177 (7th Cir.1989).

A. Finger/Hand Dexterity

Herron testified during his first hearing that he had difficulty picking up or gripping small objects with his hands and that his fingers crimped. Although he was tested for arthritis, the results were negative. Dr. Freeman acknowledged that sarcoidosis and scleroderma could cause both inflammation or irritation of the joints inducing pain and an abnormal curvature of the fingers that would progressively worsen. In the ALJ's first decision, the ALJ noted Dr. Freeman's conclusion that Herron could perform "light or sedentary work not involving the extensive use of fine motor control." Specifically, Dr. Freeman stated that Herron would be able to work at the light exertional level "as long as the work didn't involve repeated use of the hands and fingers for fine motor use such as for example, typing, assembly--of repeated assembly of small parts, things of that sort." He also emphasized, however, that these limitations were based on his own conclusions and were not directly supported by the diagnoses in the medical record. Although the ALJ incorporated by reference the summary of the evidence from his first decision into the second determination, he failed to make any assessment of the medical evidence and testimony relating to Herron's hand impairment after the second hearing.

Our cases consistently recognize that meaningful appellate review requires the ALJ to articulate reasons for accepting or rejecting entire lines of evidence. Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir.1993); Young v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 957 F.2d 386, 392 (7th Cir.1992) (failure to discuss claimant's testimony, his wife's affidavits, or the reports of three doctors); Look v. Heckler, 775 F.2d 192, 195 (7th Cir.1985) (failure to discuss uncontradicted evidence consisting of claimant's and friend's testimonies as well as medical reports); Zblewski...

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