Recently in Akin v. Berryhill, — F.3d —, 2018 WL 1616717 (7th Cir. Apr. 4, 2018), the Court remanded because the ALJ, himself, impermissibly “played doctor.”
Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966, 970 (7th Cir. 1996) teaches that ALJs “must not succumb to the temptation to play doctor and make their own medical findings,” a teaching that cases such as Blakes ex rel. Wolfe v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 570 (7th Cir. 2003) reframe as precluding ALJs from substituting their own opinions to fill gaps in the record.
In Akin, the ALJ stated that the MRI results were “consistent” with Akin’s impairments and then based his assessment of her residual functional capacity “after considering … the recent MRIs.” 2018 WL 1616717, at * 3. The Court held that without an expert opinion interpreting the MRI results in the record, the ALJ was not qualified to conclude that the MRI results were “consistent” with his assessment. 2018 WL 1616717, at * 3.
MRIs are diagnostic tools that should be interpreted by a medical professional to determine the functional effects from it. The Seventh Circuit in Akin noted that MRI results may have corroborated Akin’s complaints, or they may have lent support to the ALJ’s original interpretation, but either way the ALJ was not qualified to make his own determination without the benefit of an expert opinion. 2018 WL 1616717, at * 3.
If you are appealing a case to the Seventh Circuit or to any of the district courts within, make sure to check the recent Seventh Circuit decisions at http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/opinion.html