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BURNEY v. BARNHART

August 9, 2004.

IRENE BURNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
JO ANNE BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL MASON, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Irene Burney ("Burney" or "plaintiff"), has brought a motion for summary judgment seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant"), who denied Burney's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381a (2000). Defendant Barnhart filed a cross-motion for summary judgment asking that we uphold the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). We have jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the following reasons, we grant plaintiff's motion and deny defendant's motion, remanding this case to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Burney filed an application for DIB and SSI benefits on May 5, 2000, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 1999.*fn1 (R. 368-70). Her application was denied initially and after a timely request for reconsideration. (R. 359-66). Thereafter, Burney requested, and was granted, a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 367). On November 7, 2001, Burney testified at a hearing conducted by ALJ John L. Mondi. (R. 79-110). ALJ Mondi issued a written decision on June 14, 2002 denying Burney DIB and SSI benefits. (R. 19-24). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and ALJ Mondi's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.*fn2 See Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881 (7th Cir. 2001); Reg. § 416.1481.

  FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff's Testimony

  At the time of the hearing, Burney was forty-five years old. (R. 82). She stood 5'11 and weighed 230 pounds. (R. 88). Burney has a high school education and previous work experience as an assistant manager of a convenience store and a receptionist. (82-85). Burney was an assistant manager at a 7-11 store from 1986-1992. According to Burney, her employment at 7-11 ended because the store closed and she "fell on [her] head." (R. 94). The administrative record does not contain conclusive evidence regarding her employment from 1992-1996. However, from 1997-1998, Burney worked as a receptionist for Sullivan Personnel Services and Centurion Services. (R. 377). From 1999-2000, after the alleged onset date of her disability, Burney worked part-time for Centurion Services. Id.

  Burney testified that she suffers from migraines that cause blurred vision and slurred speech. (R. 86). She stated that at the time of the hearing she had been having "more and more migraine attacks . . . every couple of weeks, . . . for like three or four days" at a time. (R. 96-97). Additionally, she reported having dizzy spells, hip problems, and back problems. (R. 86). She has trouble walking and occasionally uses a cane in the summer time.*fn3 (R. 101). She uses the cane at home and when she goes to the park to help her with balance. Id. She can walk up to six blocks to the grocery store, but after three blocks her "leg gives completely out." (R. 89). She stated that she has great difficulty walking to the grocery store and has fallen while walking there in the past. Id.

  Save infrequent house guests, Burney has lived alone in an apartment on the third floor of a building without an elevator for the past 23 years. (R. 91, 103). She testified that there are lots of days when she does not leave her apartment. (R. 103). When she is in her apartment, she cleans it and prepares three meals per day. Id. For entertainment, Burney may read a couple of paragraphs in a book and watch television. Id. Burney does not use alcohol or drugs. (R. 93). She has very few friends and has problems with daily social interactions. (R. 107).

  Medical Evidence

  As stated supra, the administrative record before us is voluminous, but a majority of its contents are irrelevant to our discussion. For purposes of this opinion, we are only concerned with evidence in the record applicable to plaintiff's May 5, 2000 application for disability benefits. Such records include, inter alia, the medical records of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Robert B. Wright; a consultative examination conducted by Dr. Shital Shah; a physical RFC assessment from 2000; and a 2002 psychological evaluation from Dr. Mark B. Langgut.

  A. Dr. Robert Wright

  Dr. Wright began treating plaintiff in February, 1993 and continued to see her several times a year through 2001. (R. 247-53; 308-311; 457-94; 515-517). Since the alleged onset of her disability, Burney visited Dr. Wright for symptoms including: migraine headaches, blurred vision, dizzy spells, hypertension, a semi-functioning left leg and general body numbness. (R.457-465). Dr. Wright observed that Burney suffered from chronic headaches, ranging from manageable to debilitating. (R. 308; 458). The duration of her headaches ranged from a few times a month to a period, lasting up to two weeks, when her headaches occurred at least once a day. (R. 457). He prescribed Tylenol and Mylanta for general pain, Midrin for migraine headaches, and Indiral for complications caused by hypertension. Id. Additionally, Dr. Wright observed Burney's social behavior. (R. 460). He noted that she repeatedly failed to make eye contact with him during their appointments. Burney told Dr. Wright that she often had trouble "finding words." (R. 478). Dr. Wright also documented Burney's rambling speech, which did not follow any logical pattern (R. 460), and her frequent circuitous speech patterns. (R. 460).

  B. Dr. Mark Langgut

  Dr. Langgut, a clinical psychologist, conducted two consultative psychological evaluations of Burney in 1996 and 2002. (R. 312-317; 518-523). At each exam, Dr. Langgut performed detailed psychological evaluations, including memory tests, abstract reasoning tests and an IQ test. Id. He also made general observations about her social behavior. Id. In the most recent examination, he opined that Burney has areas of intact intellectual ability and may be able "to learn new tasks, synthesize novel information into existing cognitive schema, and use insight and judgment to good advantage." (R. 512-22). When testing her judgment and insight, Dr. Langgut ...


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