`

7th Circuit: Omission of fibromyalgia diagnosis reversible error

June 23, 2016

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an administrative law judge’s omission of fibromyalgia from a woman’s list of impairments was not supported by the evidence and reversed denial of her application for supplemental security income.

Nancy Thomas was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 2006, an autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid gland. Over the next four years she complained of headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, pain in her neck, depression, intolerance to heat and cold, and other symptoms. She saw two doctors before filing for SSI, where she saw a state medical consultant. The Social Security Administration denied her application for SSI in 2011.

She went back to one of her doctors, who diagnosed her with fibromyalgia and prescribed Lyrica to help. Another doctor completed a disability questionnaire which stated she had been diagnosed with Graves’ disease and moderate fibromyalgia causing muscle and joint pains and these conditions “substantially limit” Thomas’ ability to work.

Thomas appeared before an ALJ a year and half after her initial denial of SSI and he denied her claim. The ALJ admitted Thomas suffered from Graves’ disease, degenerative changes of the left shoulder and lumbar spine, and dysthymic disorder, but did not acknowledge fibromyalgia because neither doctor that diagnosed her and supported her was a rheumatologist. He also thought Thomas’ symptoms were not severe enough and at most caused minimal limitations to Thomas’ ability to work. The District Court upheld the verdict.

Thomas appealed, claiming the ALJ’s omission of her fibromyalgia diagnosis were unsound and the conclusion about the severity of her physical impairments is not back up by evidence.

In a per curiam decision heard by Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judges William Bauer and Michael Kanne, the 7th Circuit ruled the ALJ overlooked a second set of criteria when deciding whether Thomas had fibromyalgia, which includes a history of widespread pain and repeated occurrence of symptoms. Thomas supplied this evidence, refuting the SSA’s claim that overlooking this set of criteria was harmless error.

The 7th Circuit also agreed with Thomas that the ALJ’s claims about the severity of her symptoms were not backed up by sufficient evidence. It ruled the ALJ put too much weight on the testimony of the government’s two doctors who examined Thomas and not enough on Thomas’ doctors and her testimony.

“In finding Thomas not credible to the extent that she described more than minimal limitations, the ALJ relied on the seeming lack of objective evidence supporting Thomas’s subjective account of her symptoms, but, as discussed earlier, the ALJ skipped over the substantial findings of Thomas’s treating physicians and physical therapist that showed that her impairments indeed would limit her ability to perform work tasks,” the panel wrote in remanding the case for further proceedings.

The case is Nancy J. Thomas v. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  15-2390.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Scott Roberts