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DIXON v. BARNHART

March 22, 2004.

VERNICE M. DIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARTIN ASHMAN, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Venice M. Dixon, seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Jo Anne B. Barnhart, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before this Court is Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, which requests this Court to reverse the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision that Plaintiff was not entitled to SSI, or alternatively, to remand Plaintiffs case for further determination of her disability. The Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, which requests this Court to affirm the Ale's decision, is also before the Court. For the reasons set forth below, this Court affirms the Ale's decision.

  I. Procedural History

  Plaintiff applied for SSI on September 30, 1999. (R. at 90-92.) She claimed disability due to a hand injury that occurred August 18, 1980, as well as depression and seizures, which Page 2 began roughly eighteen months prior to the application. (R. at 66.) Plaintiffs claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 62, 67.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ on June 15, 2000, (R. at 70.) The hearing was held before ALJ Cynthia M. Breathier on September 11, 2000, where Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, Plaintiffs daughter, and a vocational expert testified. (R. at 15.) On December 27, 2000, the ALJ rendered her decision and found Plaintiff not disabled because she could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (R. at 20.) Plaintiff filed a timely appeal, but the Appeals Council denied the request for review. (R. at 6-7.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.

  II. Background Facts

  A. Plaintiffs Background

  Plaintiff was born on September 7, 1953, and was forty-seven years old at the time of the Ale's decision. (R. at 19-20.) She graduated from high school, completed one year of college, and possesses a vocational certificate for stenography. (R. at 28.) The Plaintiff has worked as a circulating clerk at a college, a cashier at a gas station, a line supervisor for the CHA, and most recently as a bus supervisor for a college summer program. (R. at 102.) This most recent employment ended at the close of the summer of 1996. (Id.)

  B. Medical Evidence

  In connection with a previous application for benefits, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Steven Redwoods on October 19, 1998. (R. at 176.) Dr. Redwoods observed that Plaintiff had suffered a traumatic injury to her right hand when it went through a window in 1980. (Id.) The injury consisted of severe arterial, venous, tendon and nerve damage, which required initial Page 3 surgery in 1980, and a surgical revision of tendon damage in 1983. (Id.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with weakness, numbness, and pain in her right hand, (Id.)

  Dr. Redwoods tested Plaintiffs grip strength and determined that the right hand grip strength ranged between 0 and 1/5. (R. at 178.) Dr. Radowitz also noted that Plaintiff appeared to have limited motion in the wrist and MCP joints, as well as difficulty manipulating small objects. (Id.) Based on these initial observations, Dr. Radowitz ordered x-rays of the right hand and wrist, (Id.) The x-rays revealed mild osteopenia, or a decrease in bone mass, and degenerative change with narrowing of the radial carpal joint. (R. at 180.)

  Based on Dr. Radowitz's findings, on October 29, 1998, Dr. Earl Don elan filed a Residual Functioning Capacity Evaluation ("RFC"). (R. at 181-88.) Dr. Don elan determined that Plaintiff could lift twenty pounds with her right arm occasionally, and ten pounds with her right arm frequently. (R. at 182.) Dr. Don elan also observed that Plaintiff could stand and/or walk, or sit, with normal breaks, for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday. (Id.) Dr. Don elan did not observe any push/pull, postural, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. (R. at 182-85.) However, Dr. Donelan did note manipulative limitations on the right hand and wrist in keeping with Dr. Radowitz's diagnosis. (R. At 184, 188.) The prior application for Supplemental Security Income was denied on December 8, 1998. (R. At 58-61.)

  Between January 1999, and July 2000, Plaintiff visited the West Chicago Physicians Association ("WCPA") for treatment On January 29, 1999, Plaintiff was diagnosed with depression, obesity and status-post right hand injury. (R. At 268.) The physician's notes indicate that Plaintiff previously had been prescribed Pail, but had stopped taking it because it made her Page 4 "feel funny." (Id.) As a result, the physician prescribed Ellaville for both depression and neuropathy in the right hand. (Id.)

  Between February and May, 1999, Plaintiff had three check-ups. (R. at 265-67.) These check-ups reiterate the main diagnosis of depression, obesity and status-post injury to the right hand. (Id.) Plaintiff was advised to continue on Ellaville, and the dosage was raised from 25mg to 50mg on April 30, 1998. (R. At 266.)

  On July 13, 1999, Plaintiff presented with a sub conjunctive hemorrhage in her right eye. (R. At 264.) She was referred to Dr. Norman Lewis for an ophthalmology consult. (R. At 310.) Prior to the consult, Plaintiff returned to the WCPA, on July 23, 1999. (R. At 263.) The treating physician noted that the hemorrhaged eye was "much better." (Id.) The physician also noted that Plaintiff had stopped taking Ellaville. (Id.) She was advised to go back on Ellaville at the most recent prescribed amount of 50mg. (Id.)

  When Plaintiff saw Dr. Lewis on August 8, 1999, the specific symptoms of the hemorrhage had subsided. (R. At 310.) Dr. Lewis, however, expressed concern over Plaintiffs claim that she saw jagged lines with associated nausea and dizziness, and included his concerns in a memo to Dr. Gelatin, who was scheduled to see Plaintiff on August 16, 1999. (Id.) Dr. Lewis also noted in this memo that Plaintiff "does not note any associated headache." (Id.) Dr. Lewis opined to Dr. Gelatin that the visual phenomena may be a variation of migraine headaches, and therefore warranted further study. (Id.)

  In August-November, 1999, Plaintiff visited Dr. Anil Gelatin on several occasions in connection with the evidence of possible migraines Dr. Lewis discovered. (R. At 212-19.) Plaintiff complained to Dr. Gelatin of problems with her eyesight and headaches. (R. At 213.) Page 5 Dr. Gelatin noted that Plaintiff experienced headaches one or two times a month, and that Plaintiff sometimes experienced visual impairment, dizziness, and nausea in connection with the headaches. (R. at 218.) As a result of his findings, Dr. Gulati diagnosed a "likely migraine variant" and ordered a CT scan of Plaintiff's head. (R. at 219.) The CT scan revealed a mild asymmetry of the temporalis muscles, with the left larger than the right, but also noted that such a finding is nonspecific. (R. At 215.) Aside from this nonspecific finding the CT scan was "unremarkable." (R. At 216.)

  On August 13, 1999, Plaintiff again visited the WCPA to follow up on the hemorrhaged right eye. (R. At 262.) The treating physician diagnosed injury of the right hand with neuropathy and deformity in same hand. (Id.) The physician also recommended that the Plaintiff begin on Neuron tin. (Id.) The report does not mention obesity, depression or Ellaville.

  On October 26, 1999, Plaintiff presented with stomach pains. (R. At 296.) The physician's notes indicate that Plaintiff had been hospitalized at Rush Memorial with abdominal pain and was found to have gallstones. (Id.) Plaintiff was also again diagnosed with atypical migraines. (Id.) The treating physician prescribed Pepsi and Depicted, (Id.)

  Beginning in January 2000, Plaintiffs physicians began to focus more on her headaches. Between January 21 and July 21, 2000, Plaintiff visited the WCPA on seven occasions. (R. At 289-95.) The first of these visits noted the possibility of seizures. (R. At 295.) Over the course of these visits various other complaints or disorders were noted, including: anemia, hyperlipidemia (elevated concentrations of lipids in the plasma), anxiety disorder, sinusitis, and a cough. (R. at 289-95.) On February 29, 2000, Plaintiffs primary physician, Dr. James Miller, Page 6 ordered a MRI of the brain. (R. at 293.) The MRI was performed by the Mt Sinai Medical Group on April 5, 2000, and was negative. (R. at 276.)

  On February 16, 2000, Dr. David Gehlhoff administered a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff, (R. at 220.) The report notes that according to Plaintiff her seizures had begun a year previously and occurred only in her sleep. (Id.) Plaintiff also described the nature and onset of her depression. (Id.) She told the doctor that her depression began around the time of her mother's death, that she was not suicidal, and that she still can get some enjoyment out of things. (Id.) Dr. Gehlhoff performed several tests on Plaintiffs memory and judgment. (R. at 221-22.) Dr. Gehlhoff noted that Plaintiffs affect was "blunted and restricted," and that "she appeared sad." (R. at 221.) Based on these evaluations Dr. Gehlhoff opined that Plaintiff should not handle her own funds. (R. at 222.) Dr. Gehlhoff diagnosed alcohol use in remission, seizure disorder, amnesic disorder, NOS, and dysthymic disorder. (Id.)

  On February 16, 2000, Plaintiff was also examined by Dr. Hilton Gordon, a consultative internist, for her seizure disorder and right hand problems. (R. at 223.) Dr. Gordon diagnosed seizure disorder of unknown etiology, history of gallstones, and history of headaches. (R. at 225,) Dr. Gordon performed a specific examination of Plaintiffs right hand. (Id.) Dr. Gordon observed full extension of the fingers without difficulty, but the inability to completely flex them. (Id.) Plaintiff demonstrated fist and grip strength of 3/5 in the right hand with pain, and 5/5 in the left hand. (Id.) Dr. Gordon also noted 3/5 motor strength in the right upper limb, and 5/5 in all other muscles. (Id.) Dr. Gordon observed that Plaintiff could hold a pen, and zip and button slowly with the right hand. (Id.) Based on these findings, Dr. Gordon diagnosed Plaintiff with Page 7 "status post laceration of the right arm with decreased flexion of the fingers and wrist associated with pain." (Id.)

  March 23, 2000, Dr. Carl Herms Meyer, Ph.D., performed a Psychiatric Review Technique ("PRT"), (R. at 240-48), and a mental RFC assessment, (R. at 249-52). From the PRT Dr. Herms Meyer determined that Plaintiffs amnesic disorder, NOS did not meet the listing requirements for organic mental disorder. (R. at 242; 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, app. 1, § 12.02.) He determined that Plaintiffs dysthymia did not to meet the listing requirements for affective disorders. (R. at 243; 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, app. 1, § 12.04.) Dr. Herms Meyer determined that Plaintiffs substance addiction disorder was "in remission." (R. at 246; 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, app. 1, § 12.09.) Because no listings were met, Dr. Herms Meyer asserted on the PRT form that a mental RFC assessment was necessary. (R. at 240.) On the mental RFC assessment form, Dr. Herms Meyer indicated two areas of moderate limitation: the ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, and the ...


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