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CONNOR v. SHALALA

September 25, 1995

RONALD A. CONNOR, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA E. SHALALA, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

 Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Ronald A. Connor ("Connor") appeals the final decision of the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala ("Secretary") denying Connor's claim for Social Security Disability Benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423. Both parties move for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

 BACKGROUND

 Connor is a 48 year old man who alleges that he is disabled and cannot work because he suffers from uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, depression, and asthma. Record ("R.") at 9. He claims that he has been disabled as of September 29, 1991. R. at 9. Prior to that time, he had worked as a mechanical repairman at Anchor Glass in Streator, Illinois for a continuous period of twenty-six years. R. at 11.

 Connor applied to the Social Security Administration for disability benefits on July 13, 1992. R. at 68. On September 28, 1992, Connor received a denial notice from the Administration which stated that he was not entitled to benefits. R. at 74. He requested reconsideration of his application, R. at 78, and was informed on December 16, 1992, that the reviewers had also denied his claim. R. at 81. Connor requested an administrative hearing, R. at 84, which was held by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Barbara Welsch on July 19, 1993. R. at 26. The ALJ issued a written opinion after the hearing stating that Connor was not disabled. R. at 9-15. The Appeals Council denied Connor's request for review, consequently adopting the ALJ's opinion as the final statement of the Secretary. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Jones v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 522, 523 (7th Cir. 1993). Next, Connor brought this action. Both Connor and the Secretary have moved for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, the opinion of the ALJ is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED for further proceedings below. In reaching this decision, the Court has reviewed the pertinent evidence and testimony contained in the record.

 REVIEW OF THE RECORD

 Connor's Testimony

 At the administrative hearing, Connor testified that he stopped working at Anchor Glass in February, 1991, because he could not control his diabetes. R. at 36. This illness caused him to get light-headed and dizzy, and sometimes he would pass out. Id. He claims that during the last four years he was working, he passed out twelve to sixteen times. R. at 54. The department head and union president at his job suggested that he should not keep working because he could injure himself or his coworkers if he continued to pass out. R. at 50. Although Connor, at the time of the hearing, had not recently passed out, he claimed that he usually passes out about once or twice a week because his blood sugar is either too high or too low. R. at 39.

 In addition, Connor testified that his legs ache and his feet are numb as a result of poor circulation. R. at 41. He claims that, because of this condition, he can only walk for ten to fifteen minutes before his feet hurt so badly that he has to sit down. Id. He can only sit for ten to twenty minutes before his legs start to go to sleep again. Id. Also, a couple of times a day he has a sharp pain "going through the end of [his] toe." R. at 51-52.

 In response to the ALJ's questions, Connor stated that he does more housework now than he did when he was working. R. at 46. He does the dishes once in a while when he is feeling well, and occasionally does the laundry, id., and fixes his own meals. R. at 45. He takes thirty minute bicycle rides three times a week, and lifts weights about four times a month. R. at 42.

 Although Connor claims to completely understand the diet and medication regimen that he needs to follow because of his diabetes, he admitted at the hearing that he had only been checking his blood sugar once a day, instead of twice a day as he is supposed to. R. at 40. He explained that he deviates from his treatment regimen in this manner because the necessary equipment costs too much. Id. He takes insulin both in the mornings and evenings. R. at 38. He also takes Xanax about three times a week to help him sleep, and occasionally takes aspirin. Id.

 In addition to suffering from diabetes, Connor has asthma. R. at 43. He admitted, however, that his asthma has not been bothering him that much in the past few years. R. at 44. Connor also denied having any mental problems, noting that a psychologist told him that "the only problem [he has] is saying no to people." Id.

 Evelyn Connor's Testimony

 Evelyn Connor verified her husband's statements with regard to his situation at home. R. at 54-55. In addition, she testified that Connor gets terrible headaches, and in the mornings he has "rubber band legs" and is off balance a lot. R. at 55.

 Connor's Medical Record

 1. State Agency Physician's Report

 Dr. James Graham examined the record for the Agency's initial determination of Connor's disability status. Dr. Graham concluded on the basis of Connor's diabetes and peripheral neuropathy that Connor could occasionally lift up to fifty pounds and frequently lift twenty-five pounds. R. at 121. He also concluded that Connor could stand or walk for about six hours in an eight hour work day, and could sit for the same period of time. Id. Connor's ability to push and/or pull was found to be unlimited. Id. Graham also determined that Connor should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and should avoid heights. R. at 124. On the basis of his review, Graham concluded that Connor should be able to do medium work for the usual hours in a day. R. at 126. Graham's conclusions were affirmed by Dr. Elsie Villafor, who reviewed the record for Connor's reconsideration request. Id.

 2. Dr. Scott's Reports

 Dr. Scott's reports confirm that Connor suffers from diabetes mellitus. Dr. Scott also noted that Connor seemed to be suffering from mild anxiety and depression on two separate occasions in November, 1990. R. at 140, 186. In addition, Dr. Scott doubted whether Connor was correctly following his diet. R. at 274.

 3. Dr. Vadhanasindhu's Reports

 On July 29, 1992, Dr. Vad completed a diabetic report for the Bureau of Disability Determination Services. R. at 150. Dr. Vad reported that Connor had diabetes mellitus which was poorly controlled at times, and that it was difficult for ...


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