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BAKER v. BARNHART

JOHN BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, John Baker ("Baker" or "plaintiff"), has brought a motion for summary judgment seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "defendant"), who denied Baker's claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1381a.*fn1 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

  Prior to January 1, 1997, plaintiff received SSI benefits based on an alcohol related disability. (R. 116). Baker's benefits were discontinued on that date due to the enactment of Public Law 104-121. Public Law 104-121, known as the "Contract With America Advancement Act of 1996", eliminated SSI benefits for persons whose "alcoholism or drug addiction would be a contributing factor material to the Commissioner's determination that the individual is disabled." 18 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(c). Aware that his SSI benefits were about to be terminated, on August 6, 1996, plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits based on grounds other than alcoholism. His application was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. On February 26, 1997, Baker requested, and was granted, a hearing before ALJ Alvin Liebling. (R. 114-20). ALJ Liebling issued an opinion denying Baker's August 6, 1996 application for benefits on January 1, 1997. (R. 120). Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Appeals Counsel, which was denied initially. (R. 206-209). Subsequently, the Appeals Counsel vacated its original order, remanding Baker's case for further proceedings. (R. 207).

  ALJ John K. Kraybill conducted a subsequent administrative hearing on November 9, 2000. Plaintiff, his neighbor, Donna Quince, and a medical expert ("ME"), Dr. Kenneth Kessler, testified at the hearing. (R. 37). At the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Kraybill left the administrative record open to allow for post-hearing psychological testing. Thereafter, ALJ Kraybill conducted a follow-up hearing on June 2, 2001,*fn2 at which plaintiff, Dr. Kessler, and vocational expert ("VE"), GleeAnn Kehr, testified. (R. 81). On June 25, 2001, ALJ Kraybill issued a written decision denying plaintiff's application for SSI benefits. (R. 19-25). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and ALJ Kraybill's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881 (7th Cir. 2001); Reg. § 416.1481. Plaintiff now appeals that decision to this court.

  Factual Background

  1. Medical Evidence

  Mr. Baker has been diagnosed with a right clavicle fracture that healed in a deformed and displaced manner, peripheral neuropathy of the left wrist, and a history of chronic alcohol abuse.*fn3 The medical evidence plaintiff presented to the ALJ included medical records from Silver Cross Hospital, treatment notes from Dr. Joyce Allen, both physical and psychological consultative examination reports, and a physical residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment.

  On December 10, 1996, Disability Determination Services ("DDS") physician Dr. Rito Maningo examined plaintiff. (R. 160-64). During the examination, Baker complained of pain in his right shoulder, numbness in the fingers on his left hand, and occasional pain in his left wrist. Dr. Maningo noted that Baker fractured his right clavicle in a car accident in the mid 1990s, had a medial orbital fracture of the right orbit in April 1996, and had surgery on his left wrist to repair severed nerves. He also noted that Baker was right-handed and, without any problem, could use his right hand to button and unbutton his shirt and tie and unties his shoes.

  Dr. Maningo did not note any evidence of acute inflammatory conditions in Baker's left wrist or right clavicle. (R. 163). He also found that plaintiff did not display atrophy or hypertrophy of the muscles and that his gait and weight-bearing were normal. (R. 163). Ultimately, Dr. Maningo diagnosed Baker with chronic pain in the right shoulder, peripheral neuropathy in his left wrist, and a history of chronic ethanol abuse, currently in short-term remission. (R. 164).

  A physical RFC assessment dated December 17, 1996, reported that Baker could lift up to fifty pounds occasionally, and twenty-five pounds frequently. (R. 167). According to the RFC, Baker could stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour day and could sit for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour day. (R. 167). His ability to push and/or pull was unlimited and he had no postural, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. (R. 168-71). However, plaintiff's ability to reach in all directions with his right extremity was limited, but there were no manipulative limitations for his left extremity. (R. 169).

  On July 9, 1998, Dr. James Ahstrom, an arthroscopic surgeon, examined Baker. Dr. Ahstrom opined that plaintiff had an obvious deformity in his right clavicle and that the right clavicle fragments were significantly displaced. He also noted a limited range of motion in Baker's right arm and shoulder. As for Baker's left wrist, Dr. Ahstrom found limited motion and diminished sensation over the tips of digits 2-5 on plaintiff's left hand Dr. Ahstrom did not find any muscle atrophy, or real lack of motion in the left hand However, he did note that Baker could not touch his thumb to his pinky finger on his left hand and that his grip was stronger with his right hand than with his left hand

  On August 27, 1998, William Hilger, Jr. Ph.D., at the request of the DDS, performed a consultative psychological examination of Baker. (R. 181-83). During the examination, Baker reported that he was not taking any medications on a regular basis. (R. 181). Dr. Hilger opined that plaintiff showed poor levels of general knowledge, judgment, calculational ability, conceptual reasoning, and abstract reasoning. He considered plaintiff suitable for very simple and routine work duties under close supervision. Dr. Hilger suggested that plaintiff might be able to perform simple sedentary factory jobs under fairly close supervision. (R. 183). Dr. Hilger regarded plaintiff's reasoning ability as low, ability to make occupational adjustments as minimal, ability to make personal adjustments as normal, and ability to make social adjustments as fair. (R. 184). Dr. Hilger also noted that plaintiff's last regular employment was in 1978 as a laborer for GAF Corporation. (R. 182). Plaintiff worked at GAF for four years until he was terminated because of his alcohol use and poor attendance. (R. 182). Baker has not had any regular employment since his termination in 1978. (R. 182). Dr. Hilger opined that plaintiff would be unable to properly manage any benefit payments in view of his low levels of judgment and calculational skills as well as his propensity to use any benefit payments to pay for his alcohol habit. (R. 183). Dr. Hilger did not regard plaintiff as limited in his daily activities and did not note any deterioration in personal habits. (R. 185).

  On October 20, 2000, Dr. Joyce Allen completed a form for the Township of Joliet's Community Work and Training Program. Based on four separate visits with Baker, she opined that Baker's severe degenerative joint disease and history of clavicle fracture were disabling, although she did not know whether these conditions were permanently disabling. (R. 251). She further opined that plaintiff could not do any lifting or carrying. (R. 251). On January 31, 2001, Erwin Baukus, Ph.D., performed consultative psychological testing, including intelligence testing and memory testing, on Baker. (R. 262-65). Dr. Baukus reported good motivation and good persistence and considered the test results valid. (R. 264). Baker has an eleventh-grade education, however he can only read at the fifth-grade level. (R. 262, 264). Plaintiff tested at the borderline level of intellectual functioning, but Dr. Baukus did not regard plaintiff as having severe functional restrictions based on intelligence. (R. 265). Plaintiff was also well-oriented to person, time, and place. (R. 264-65). Dr. Baukus regarded plaintiff as having a good ability to perform ...


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