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).
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.
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,
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
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 ...