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DAVIS v. BARNHART

February 22, 2002

ANNIE L. DAVIS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JO ANNE BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY[FN1] DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Annie L. Davis seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, Jo Anne Barnhart, denying her applications for widow's insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402, 423 and 1381 et seq. Davis claims that the Commissioner's decision to deny her benefits should be reversed or remanded for a new hearing because it was not supported by substantial evidence and because the ALJ and the Appeals Council erred as a matter of law. Both parties now move for summary judgment. (R. 11; R. 12.) For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the Commissioner's decision, deny Davis' motion for summary judgment, (R. 11), and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, (R. 12).

RELEVANT FACTS

Davis was born on April 3, 1940 and has a tenth grade education. Davis stopped working in 1978, when her employer relocated. Her husband, Arthur Davis, died on September 29, 1997.

I. Davis' Hearing Testimony

On September 1, 1998, Davis testified before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Larry Miller at a Social Security Administration ("SSA") Hearing. Davis testified that she was unable to work because of headaches and leg pain. She claimed that for the past four years she has suffered from "terrible headaches . . . just about every day . . . [for] most of the day." (R. 7, Admin. R. at 191-192, SSA Hr'g Tr.) Davis asserted that the headaches started about nine years before the hearing, around 1989, when she suffered from headaches two or three times a week. Davis claimed that the headaches are triggered by noise and worry. She further testified that medication does not help the headaches, but that a quiet place or a walk outside helps.

Davis also testified that for the past four to five years, she could not stand for more than fifteen or twenty minutes because of the pain in her legs. She also stated that her legs felt tired when she walked. Davis testified that she could walk four blocks, rest for five minutes and then walk the four blocks back home. She also maintained that going up stairs bothers her, although coming down stairs is not as bad because she sometimes goes down the stairs while sifting.

At the time of the hearing, Davis testified that she was five feet, five inches tall and weighed 180 pounds, although she was losing weight. Davis testified that she has high blood pressure and takes medication to control it. In May or June 1997, the dosage of Davis' high blood pressure medication was increased.

On a typical day, Davis walks her grandson to school, reads and cleans for about half an hour. Davis does not lift or carry things at home. Davis' daughter might also take her to the cleaners or grocery store.

II. Medical Evidence

The medical evidence in this case consists of records — mainly progress notes — from Davis' outpatient visits to Cook County Hospital ("CCH"), the report of consulting physician H. Stamboli, M.D. and the report of non-examining reviewing physician Mohammad Irshad, M.D.

Davis began treatment as an outpatient at CCH in 1994. CCH progress notes from 1994 to 1997 show hypertension, which had been largely controlled with medication during the three year period. In February and June 1994, Davis reported that she "fe[lt] well." (R. 7, Admin. R. at 127, Feb. 25, 1994 CCH Notes; Id. at 124, June 10, 1994 CCH Notes.) In September 1994, Davis reported that she was "doing ok" but complained of some precordial pain which the treating physician noted was "a typical for angina." (Id. at 121, Sept. 9, 1994 CCH Notes.) Davis continued to report that she was "feeling fine" in December 1994 and March 1995. (Id. at 116, Dec. 9, 1994 CCH Notes; Id. at 115, Mar. 3, 1995 CCH Notes.) In May 1995, Davis was diagnosed with tension headaches at the CCH emergency room, and CCH progress notes from later that month show that Davis had run out of medication. In June 1995, doctors increased her blood pressure medication dosage and, by the end of the month, she reported feeling "pretty good." (Id. at 112, June 30, 1995 CCH Notes.) In October 1995, Davis reported no subjective complaints except occasional lightheadedness. In February 1996, Davis reported suffering occasional headaches. In May 1996, December 1996, April 1997 and June 1997, Davis reported no subjective complaints. In April 1997, however, Davis was diagnosed with hypertensive retinopathy, and the treating professional assessed that Davis' hypertension was not controlled. By her June 1997 examination, however, Davis' hypertension was controlled. In September 1997, Davis had no subjective complaints, except for a mild cough, and her hypertension was controlled. The treating professional also noted trace edema of the extremities. In December 1997, Davis reported no subjective complaints, but her blood pressure was slightly high and she was reminded to decrease her salt intake and to take her medications regularly.

On November 13, 1997, Dr. H. Stamboli performed a consultative examination of Davis at the request of the SSA. Davis complained of headaches, calf tenderness and knee pain. Upon examination, Dr. Stamboli noted mild pain and crepitation on movement of the knees although range of motion was not limited. He also noted grade I changes in the eyes. Dr. Stamboli's impressions were: (1) "long history of headaches, appears to be stress related"; (2) "hypertension. Takes medications but blood pressure is 160/105 . . . I cannot find any findings of heart failure . . . From her history, I noted patient has fatigue and shortness of breath upon moderate exercise. No palpitations or chest pain"; (3) "pain in knees which is most probably secondary to osteoarthritis"; and (4) "moderate obesity." (Id. at 88, Stamboli Report.)

On December 15, 1997, at the request of the SSA, Dr. Mohammad Irshad assessed Davis' residual functional capacity and concluded that she was capable of performing medium work. As evidence for his conclusion, Dr. Irshad noted Davis' history of tension headaches, hypertension, height and weight and osteoarthritis with unlimited range of motion.

Davis submitted additional CCH records to the ALJ prior to the September 1998 hearing. Progress notes from an April 17, 1998 outpatient visit note that Davis' hypertension was not controlled. Davis' medication was increased and she was instructed to decrease her salt intake. Additional CCH records for the period from January 1999 through November 1999 were submitted to the Appeals Council on November 29, 1999, after the ALJ's denial of benefits and before the Appeals Council's decision regarding review. Davis' counsel argued that the records supported Davis' complaints of headaches, hypertension and knee pain. The additional records show that Davis complained of headaches in February 1999, March 1999, April 1999 and November 1999. On April 8, 1999, a CCH physician prescribed Tylenol #3 for severe headache pain. Progress notes from April 30, 1999 show that Davis' headache pain was decreased by Zoloft. A ...


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