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TUCKER v. BARNHART

April 8, 2004.

HAZEL TUCKER, Plaintiff
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORTON DENLOW, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Hazel Tucker ("Claimant") seeks judicial review of the final decision of Jo Anne B. Barnhart, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This case comes to this Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Claimant raises the issues of whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly disregarded the opinions of Claimant's treating physician and psychologist in favor of the opinions of the medical experts ("ME"), whether the ALJ committed factual error in his interpretation of certain expert testimony, and whether Claimant has a somatoform disorder. For the reasons stated below, Claimant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is denied. The case is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. II. BACKGROUND

 A. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  Claimant applied for DIB on May 9, 2001, claiming that she became disabled on June 30, 1999. R. 186-87, 192-201. Her application was denied on June 8, 2001. R. 122-25. Claimant then requested reconsideration and simultaneously applied for SSI on August 15, 2001. R. 135, 214-19, 463-65. Her request for reconsideration and her SSI application were denied in November 2001. R. 136-39, 466. Claimant's initial DIB application and request for reconsideration both were denied because, although the Disability Determination Services ("DDS") consultants determined she had a restrictive condition, the condition did not prevent her from returning to childcare work. R. 122, 139. On January 10, 2002, Claimant requested an administrative hearing. R. 140.

  On September 24, 2002, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Stephen H. Templin conducted a hearing at which Claimant appeared with counsel. R. 23. Claimant, ME Dr. Bernard Stevens, and vocational expert ("VE") Richard Hamersma testified at the hearing. R. 21-99. During that hearing, the ALJ determined that further medical evidence — x-rays of Claimant's right wrist and hand — was required. R. 28, 88-89.

  After the x-ray was taken, the ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing on February 18, 2003, at which ME Dr. Stevens and ME Dr. Eric Ostrov testified. R. 100-19. ALJ Templin issued a decision on February 28, 2003, denying Claimant's application for DIB and SSI on the grounds that Claimant was not disabled because she did not establish through competent medical evidence the existence of at least one medically determinable severe physical or mental impairment. R. 19. Claimant's timely request for a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council was denied on May 23, 2003. R. 7-9. Thus, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Claimant filed a timely complaint with this Court on July 23, 2003, and jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3).

 B. HEARING TESTIMONY — SEPTEMBER 24, 2002

  1. Claimant's Testimony

  At the time of the administrative hearing, Claimant was fifty years old and divorced, with no living children. R. 59-61. Claimant completed three years of high school, took several community college and business courses, and later received a GED. R. 62-63.

  Claimant has her own residence, but at the time of the hearing she was residing with her niece because she was sick. R. 59-60. Prior to residing with her niece, Claimant usually prepared her own meals and cared for herself but sometimes received assistance from family. R. 71-72. Claimant has not done her own grocery shopping since 1995 or 1996. R. 72.

  Claimant was employed last in 1999 as a cashier at a Dominick's food store. R. 64-65. She was terminated for taking too much sick time off and since has not worked or looked for employment. R. 65, 67-68.

  Prior to working at Dominick's, Claimant worked in the childcare industry from 1996 until 1998. R, 69. Prior to 1996, Claimant cared for her son, who passed away from AIDS and a drug overdose in 1995, and she received compensation from the state for that care. R. 61, 89-90.

  Claimant purports to have numerous medical problems. She has fractured her wrists on three separate occasions: once in 1994 while defending herself from an assault by a thief, R. 72-73, 234; again in 1997 while lifting a ten pound box of ribs, R. 73, 244-47; and a third time in 1999 while lifting her nephew, R. 77, 79. A July 1994 x-ray noted evidence of a residual healed post-fracture deformity and osteoporosis, but no similar findings were noted in a September 1994 x-ray, which showed good alignment, R. 238-40. There are medical records for the 1994 and the 1997 fractures, but not for the 1999 fracture. R. 234-40, 244-47.

  Claimant's right wrist hurts her the most, she is restricted to lifting less than ten pounds, and as of July 2001 her wrists and fingers repeatedly "locked up." R. 87, 320. Standing more than two hours causes muscle spasms in her leg, R. 84. She has sensitivity to heat and cold, and when she is exposed to dust she wheezes because of bad allergies. R. 85.

  2. Jon Beran, M.D. — Treating Physician

  Claimant's primary treating physician is Dr. Jon Beran, who has treated Claimant since 1996 and sees her between two and six times a year. R. 86, 355. Recently, he completed three relevant reports, which are discussed below.

  a. May 2001 Report to Illinois Department of Human Services

  On May 24, 2001, Dr. Beran completed a report of incapacity to the Illinois Department of Human Services. R. 323-28. The doctor diagnosed Claimant with the following conditions: (1) degenerative joint disease of the hands, feet, and wrists; (2) chronic dental infection; (3) dyspepsia; and (4) controlled hypertension. R. 323. He reported that Claimant experienced respiratory wheezing, abdominal pain, stiff fingers, toes, and wrists, but had a fairly fuIl range of motion in her joints and otherwise normal body systems. R. 323-25. No x-rays were taken. Id.

  Dr. Beran also evaluated Claimant's capacity to perform various activities during an eight-hour workday, five days a week. R. 326. He concluded that Claimant had a more than fifty percent reduced capacity in her ability to walk, bend, stand, or climb; she had a twenty to fifty percent reduced capacity for stooping, pushing, and pulling, as well as in finger dexterity and fine manipulations. Id. Claimant had full capacity for sitting, turning, speaking, traveling by public conveyance, and "grasping manipulations." Id. Dr. Beran indicated that Claimant should not lift more than ten pounds at a time and that her overall ability to perform the physical activities of daily living was reduced up to twenty percent. Id.

  b. July 2001 Report of General or Combined Physical Impairments

  On July 19, 2001, Dr. Beran completed another report regarding Claimant's DIB and SSI claims. R. 355-59. He stated that Claimant's main complaint was finger and hand pain, which extended into her arm, because overuse caused Claimant's fingers to "lock up" on her. She also complained of toe and foot pain resulting from prolonged standing or walking. Id. Dr. Beran diagnosed Claimant with Osteoarthritis of the hands and wrists. Id. Dr. Beran stated that Claimant's impairment could be expected to last at least twelve months, that Claimant could not stand continuously for six to eight hours, but that Claimant could sit upright continuously for six to eight hours. Id. He explained that Claimant had to lie down during the day because her pain level fatigued her, that Claimant could not lift or carry more than five pounds frequently, and that she had problems with functions such as grasping because pain led to severe finger spasms. R. 355, 357. Finally, he indicated that Claimant had subjective complaints of pain in her hands without objective visible pathology, and that the "locking up" of her fingers left her with pain for two to three days after each occurrence. Id.

  c. April 2002 Medical Source Statement of Ability to do Work-Related Activities

  On April 3, 2002, Dr. Beran received from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") a questionnaire entitled, "Medical Source Statement of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Physical)," to be completed on behalf of Claimant. R. 413-15. The instructions on the form indicated that the SS A was trying to determine Claimant's ability to do work-related activities, asked the doctor to indicate what activities Claimant was capable of performing despite her impairments, and requested a listing of the supporting medical findings or factors. R. 413.

  Dr. Beran reported that Claimant had exertional limitations. She could occasionally lift or carry less than ten pounds, but she could not frequently lift or carry anything. R. 413-14. She could stand or walk for less than two hours in an eight-hour workday, and she must periodically alternate between sitting and standing to relieve pain and discomfort. Id. Dr. Beran supported these conclusions with Claimant's complaints of leg pain and weakness after walking further than two blocks and additional complaints of hand, wrist, and forearm pain limiting her ability to grip and to hold objects. R. 414.

  Claimant also had postural limitations. She could never climb, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id. The medical findings listed as supporting this conclusion were Claimant's lower back and leg joint pain and weakness. Id.

  With regard to manipulative limitations, the doctor found Claimant to be limited in reaching in all directions, handling (gross manipulations), and fingering (fine manipulations). R. 415. Dr. Beran stated these impairments were caused by Claimant's limitations in lifting extremely light weight objects, such as a can of food. Id.

  Finally, Claimant had the following environmental limitations: she was limited in her ability to withstand temperature extremes, dust, humidity, hazards (such as machinery or heights), fumes, and chemicals. Id. The doctor's clinical findings supporting these limitations were based on Claimant's allergic rhinitis, triggered by dust and fumes. Id.

  3. Bernard Stevens, M.D. — Medical Expert

  Dr. Bernard Stevens testified as a medical expert in internal medicine. R. 26-58, 81-83, 148-49. He reviewed Claimant's medical records, R, 27, and concluded that there was no medically determinable severe physical impairment established, R. 42. He never examined her. Although Claimant made an allegation of chronic lung disease, nothing in any of her medical records supports this allegation, nor is there any diagnosis or treatment for any other pulmonary system impairment. R. 34-35, Also, although ...


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