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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today; 2 others of note

Villano v. Astrue, Comm. of Soc.Sec. (ND Ind., Judge Lee), is an 11-page Per Curiam opinion, originally unpublished:

Debi Villano applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits, claiming that she was disabled primarily because she had arthritis in her knees and was obese. The Social Security Administration denied her claims at all stages of review, and the district court upheld the decision of the administrative law judge (“ALJ”). On appeal, Villano argues that the ALJ erred by failing to explain his finding that Villano was not entirely credible, by failing to discuss Villano’s depression and the effect of her obesity on her arthritis in computing her residual functioning capacity, and by determining that Villano acquired from a previous job the transferable skill of “judgment.” Because we agree that the ALJ’s decision contains several significant errors, we vacate the judgment and remand to the agency. * * *

Here, it appears that the ALJ followed the appropriate procedure, but as we have explained, he made legal and factual errors in reaching his conclusion.

Accordingly, we VACATE the judgment of the district court and REMAND the case to the agency for further consideration. On remand, the ALJ should give reasoned assessments of Villano’s credibility, RFC, transferable skills, and ability to perform a significant number of jobs.

Two other non-Indiana cases today of interest.

Norfolk Southern v. Box
is an Illinois case. Illinois requires rail switching yards built or substantially renovated after February 2005 to include walkways, parallel to each track, for persons who work there. Norfolk Southern Railway contends that federal law supersedes this requirement. The Court rules that:

Because nothing in this record (or any published literature we could find) suggests that the walkway regulations of other states have imperiled rail safety, or even affected railroads’ costs of maintaining a constant level of safety, the district court’s findings of fact are not clearly erroneous. And, given those findings, the state is entitled to enforce its walk- way requirement.
In an earlier paragraph the Court writes:
Several states have laws or regulations requiring walkways in rail switching yards. Both state and federal courts are divided on the question whether these rules are compatible with federal law. Compare Southern Pacific Transportation Co. v. California Public Utilities Commission, 820 F.2d 1111 (9th Cir. 1987) (California rules valid), Elston v. Union Pacific R.R., 74 P.3d 478 (Colo. App. 2003) (Colorado rules valid), and CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Miller, 159 Md. App. 123, 858 A.2d 1025 (2004) (Maryland rules valid), with Missouri Pacific R.R. v. Texas Railroad Commission, 948 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1991) (Texas rules preempted), and Black v. Seaboard System R.R., 487 N.E.2d 468 (Ind. App. 1986) (Indiana rules preempted). These decisions start, as do we, with this federal law: [49 U.S.C. §20106] * * *

The major problem with the railroad’s position is that no federal regulation deals with walkways.

Another case today, Lott v. Levitt, begins:
John Lott, an academic and economist, believes that his reputation was sullied by Freakonomics, the popular and off-beat book written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Lott’s name was mentioned in one paragraph of the 200-page book, and he understood this passage to be an accusation of scholarly dishonesty. Offended, he filed suit against Levitt and HarperCollins, the publisher of the book, claiming that he had been defamed. The district court dismissed this claim after concluding that the passage could reasonably be read as a refutation of Lott’s controversial theories and not a swipe at his integrity. Lott now appeals.
The Court affirms the district court's dismissal of the suit.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 11, 2009 12:21 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions