United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
ROY W. ROETTGER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. PETERSON District Judge
Roy W. Roettger seeks judicial review of a final decision of
defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, finding him not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. On September 15, 2016, the court heard
oral argument in this case. For reasons explained during the
hearing and summarized here, the court will remand this case
to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income because he suffered from back pain.
Roettger's medical records indicate that he consistently
complained of and sought treatment for back pain, but the
objective medical evidence does not itself confirm
Roettger's subjective complaints, although his treating
physician submitted an opinion that supported his application
for benefits. The ALJ did not credit the opinion of the
treating physician and found that Roettger's subjective
complaints were not entirely credible. Roettger raises
several issues with the ALJ's decision; two of these
issues warrant remand.
conclusory sentences, the ALJ determined that an opinion by
Kathleen M. Gang, MD, Roettger's treating physician, was
not entitled to any weight, because “the limitations
set out by Dr. Gang are not supported by the minimal
abnormalities reported on her examinations on the
claimant.” R. 16.
treating physician's opinion regarding the nature and
severity of a medical condition is entitled to controlling
weight if it is well supported by medical findings and not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the
record.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 870
(7th Cir. 2000), as amended, (Dec. 13, 2000) (citing
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)). “While internal
inconsistencies may provide good cause to deny controlling
weight to a treating physician's opinion, ” an ALJ
must explain the inconsistencies and his reasons for
discounting the treating source opinion. Scivally v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1076 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing
Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 314 (7th Cir. 1995)).
may have had reason to discount Dr. Gang's opinion: it
appears that Dr. Gang did not make any treatment notes of
objective findings that would support her conclusions. But
Roettger's pain would not necessarily be traceable to
objective findings. The ALJ did not adequately explain his
decision, cite to specific inconsistencies in the record, or
identify and apply the pertinent regulatory factors, as
required under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. Although the ALJ
provided a reasonably thorough description of the objective
medical evidence, R. 15, he summarily discounted Dr.
Gang's opinion without explanation, and without any
degree of deference.
court will remand this case to the Commissioner with
instructions to reconsider Dr. Gang's opinion, weigh it
against the medical evidence in the record, and adequately
explain the result. The ALJ should keep in mind the fact that
he determined that Roettger's medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause his alleged
symptoms, and the ALJ documented Roettger's extensive
history of back pain.
also dismissed Roettger's testimony about his subjective
experience of pain. The ALJ determined that although
Roettger's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, his
subjective complaints were not entirely credible. R. 15. No
objective medical evidence in the record supported his
complaints: physical examinations consistently revealed no
back abnormalities, normal posture, normal strength, etc.
Id. The ALJ went through the objective medical
evidence in the record in detail, noting where physical
examination did not corroborate Roettger's testimony,
including the fact that “[a]ll imaging studies show a
solid fusion, with no evidence of nerve root impingement or
instability, and good alignment.” Id.
court “will only overturn the ALJ's credibility
determination if it is patently wrong, which means that the
decision lacks any explanation or support.” Murphy
v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 811, 816 (7th Cir. 2014), as
amended, (Aug. 20, 2014), reh'g denied,
(Oct. 10, 2014). The court affords the ALJ's credibility
determination deference because the ALJ is in the unique
position to hear, see, and assess witnesses. Id. at
815 (citing Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 311
(7th Cir. 2012)). However, the credibility analysis must
“be specific enough to enable the claimant and a
reviewing body to understand the reasoning.” Craft
v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008).
ALJ may not discredit the claimant's testimony as to
subjective symptoms merely because they are unsupported by
objective evidence.” Simila v. Astrue, 573
F.3d 503, 517 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). Here, the ALJ did just that: he
pointed to an extensive treatment history that did not
document objective findings that would support the pain
levels Roettger reported. The ALJ also discussed
Roettger's activities of daily living, which he concluded
were consistent with the prescribed residual functional
capacity. R. 16. In this move, the ALJ came close to viewing
Roettger's limited activities as the equivalent of
full-time work. The Seventh Circuit has “repeatedly
warned against equating the activities of daily living with
those of a full-time job.” Hill v. Colvin, 807
F.3d 862, 869 (7th Cir. 2015).
remand, the ALJ should reconsider Roettger's credibility.
The ALJ should be wary of discounting Roettger's
consistent, subjective complaints simply because no objective
medical evidence in the record fully corroborates his
statements. And the ALJ should not equate his ability to
perform daily activities with an ability to sustain full-time