Refusal of disability benefits confirmed at Circuit 7

Despite a doctor’s opinion that she was disabled, a woman who was denied disability benefits failed to succeed in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal.

Years after a car accident in the late 1990s, Jennifer Karr saw a neurosurgeon, Dr. Isa Canavati, who diagnosed her with several spinal disorders. Karr’s pain started to get worse in the 2010s, and his various treatments were not helping him.

So in 2016, Karr applied for Social Security disability benefits. Numerous examinations revealed that she could perform light tasks by alternating sitting, standing and walking. Meanwhile, Karr went to the emergency room with back pain and numbness, and her pain continued.

In late 2017, Karr returned to Canavati, who felt that she could not sit, stand or walk for an extended period of time and that her pain was affecting her sleep. Karr eventually underwent spinal surgery in January 2018.

The previous November, Karr had appeared before an administrative judge and testified that she had to change positions every 15 to 20 minutes. The ALJ, however, determined that Karr was not disabled because she could perform sedentary work with limitations. The ALJ gave only “partial weight” to a letter from Canavati, instead pointing to other reports that Karr “had all his strength and could walk normally.”

The Northern Indiana District Court upheld the ALJ’s decision, as did the 7th Circuit. Judge Michael Scudder wrote on Wednesday for the unanimous appeal committee.

“The ALJ reasonably and adequately explained why Dr. Canavati’s statement was not allowed to control weight,” Scudder wrote. “For starters, it’s not even clear that Dr. Canavati’s statement reflects his own medical observation or opinion as opposed to a recording of Karr’s own description of his condition. … The latter is a real possibility, as the statement in question appears alongside other comments recording Karr’s subjective complaints.

Further, “Even though Dr. Canavati’s statement represented his medical judgment, it was inconsistent with other objective evidence on the record,” Scudder continued. “Karr’s primary care provider progress reports in late 2016 and early 2017 indicated normal range of motion, no back tenderness, and normal strength. The ALJ also highlighted notes from a medical assistant during Karr’s emergency room visit in May 2017 indicating a normal physical examination.

However, the ALJ erred in part of the analysis, Scudder wrote: the judge failed to assess Canavati’s statement within the relevant legislative framework. While this would normally require pre-trial detention, the error was harmless in this case due to the ALJ’s “solid ground” in finding Canavati’s opinion “extreme” and “at odds with the weight of other medical evidence” .

“In the end, therefore, this appeal amounts to a failure of the evidence on Karr’s part,” Scudder concluded. “She had every opportunity to present evidence that aligned with and reinforced Dr. Canavati’s statement, but she did not.

“While we are sympathetic to Karr’s situation, she has failed to gather the evidence to prove her alleged disability and entitlement to disability benefits. Aware of the deference that underlies the substantial standard of proof, ”the panel asserted.

The case is Jennifer L. Karr v. Andrew M. Saul, Social Security Commissioner, 20-1939.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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