The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. MICHAEL MAHONEY, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Heidi Mauerman ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration ("Commissioner"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3). The Commissioner's final decision denied Plaintiff's
application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to
Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act").
42 U.S.C. § 1381(a). This matter is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to
consents filed by both parties on February 9, 2004. See
28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R. Civ. P. 73.
Plaintiff filed for SSI on May 16, 2002 (Tr. 88), and her
application for benefits was denied on June 26, 2002. (Tr. 54).
Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration on August 1, 2002
(Tr. 59), and was subsequently denied reconsideration on October
28, 2002. (Id.). Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on November 14, 2002.
(Tr.66). Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, before an ALJ on July
10, 2003. (Tr. 21). In a decision dated August 29, 2003, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not entitled to SSI. (Tr. 13-18). On September 2, 2003, Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 9). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 3, 2003. (Tr.
Plaintiff was born on April 10, 1975, and was twenty-eight
years old at the time of her July 10, 2003, hearing before the
ALJ. (Tr. 21, 24). Plaintiff completed her education through the
eighth grade and has a GED. (Tr. 25). At the time of her hearing,
Plaintiff lived with her mother and her three children, ages
eleven, three, and six. (Tr. 24). Plaintiff is approximately five
foot six inches tall and weighed, at the time of the hearing, 138
pounds. (Id.). Plaintiff claims disability since October 12,
2000, because she was injured in an automobile accident on
October 11, 2001. (Tr. 24, 186). At the time of the hearing,
Plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments:
degenerative disc disease, adjustment disorder, and pain disorder
associated with both psychological factors and general medical
condition. (Tr. 17).
Plaintiff had no reported income since October, 2000. (Tr. 30).
Plaintiff worked for Goodwill Industries as a receptionist from
February or March, 2000 until October, 2000. (Tr. 25, 96, 108).
Plaintiff answered phones, greeted guests, and paged personnel.
(Tr. 91). Plaintiff worked six hours a day, five days a week, and
she received seven dollars per hour for her services. (Tr. 96).
Plaintiff's work was primarily sedentary, but some walking was
required. (Tr. 108). Plaintiff stated that she stopped working
for Goodwill Industries due to the injuries she sustained in the
October automobile accident. (Tr. 24-25).
Plaintiff also worked part-time as a waitress/hostess in 1995.
(Tr. 108, 110). Plaintiff took orders and carried food to
customers. (Tr. 110). This position required frequent standing, walking, and lifting of objects less than ten pounds. (Id.).
Plaintiff was paid five dollars an hour for her services.
(Id.). It appears that Plaintiff may have also waited tables
part-time in 1993, but the record is inconsistent. (Tr. 96, 108).
Plaintiff described her ability to function around the house as
limited. Plaintiff's mother and children perform most of the
normal household tasks like cooking meals and cleaning. (Tr. 31).
Plaintiff does assist her family with chores by doing dishes and
clearing the dinner table. (Tr. 31, 41). Plaintiff's mother,
however, works during the day, so Plaintiff also has friends and
a sibling that visit her during the day to help out approximately
three days a week. (Tr. 39, 40). Plaintiff cannot engage in
physical activities with her children, but does read to them and
occasionally play board games, (Tr. 41-42). Plaintiff reported
that she does not go out to socialize with her friends anymore.
While Plaintiff has been bothered by pain since her automobile
accident, she testified that some days are better than others.
(Tr. 29). At her hearing, Plaintiff stated that anytime she puts
pressure on a disc in her back, she would experience pain in her
left and right side of her back, her lower back, and upper
thighs. (Tr. 28-29). Plaintiff also noted that her upper thighs
go numb when she sits, and that she sometimes experiences pain in
her leg due to a sciatic nerve. (Tr. 29).
Plaintiff also described an onset of depression since her
accident. (Tr. 30). Plaintiff testified that she feels guilty and
depressed because she cannot do anything with her children and
that she sometimes has outbursts where she starts crying for no
reason. (Tr. 32). Plaintiff stated that sometimes she does not
want to get out of bed in the morning, talk to anyone, or go
outside. (Tr. 32). To treat her depression, Plaintiff takes 40
milligrams of Paxil. (Tr. 33). While Plaintiff reported at her
hearing that the Paxil does make a difference in her emotional
state (Tr. 40-41), she also stated that she is inconvenienced by the side
effects of her medication because it makes her sleepy and
nauseous. (Tr. 33, 36). Additionally, Plaintiff testified that
her medications interfere with her ability to drive (Tr. 36),
noting that she does not drive when she is taking her medication.
At the time of Plaintiff's hearing, she took four prescription
medications, including Paxil, Relafen, Vicodin, and Hydrocodone.
(Tr. 272). Plaintiff represented that she could sit continuously
for thirty to forty-five minutes at a time before needing to get
up (Tr. 33). Plaintiff was unsure how long she could stand at one
time (Tr. 34), but testified that she could walk two blocks at a
time, though she would be in pain. (Tr. 34). Plaintiff also
testified that she could lift a gallon of milk off the table, but
not the floor. (Tr. 34-35).
Vocational expert, Frank Mendrick, testifying before the ALJ
stated that Plaintiff's past work as a telephone receptionist was
classified as semi-skilled and sedentary work. (Tr. 43-44). Mr.
Mendrick found that Plaintiff's waitress/hostess position was a
semi-skilled position with a light exertional level required.
(Tr. 44-45). The ALJ then asked Mr. Mendrick whether a
hypothetical female, with the following characteristics, could
perform work in the economy:
Taking someone of Ms. Mauerman's age which has ranged
from 25 to 28 during the period at issue. Work
experience as you described it. Who for purposes of
this question can lift up to 20 pounds occasionally,
10 pounds frequently. Sit, stand, or walk as
required. Can only occasionally climb, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Cannot perform
detailed or complex tasks.
Mr. Mendrick testified that such a hypothetical female could
not do the past work of the Plaintiff, but could work at
unskilled jobs with a light level of exertion in assembly (10,000
positions in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area plus
Winnebago and Boone Counties), inspection (4,000 positions), and hand-packing jobs (8,000
positions). (Tr. 45). The ALJ then added a requirement whereby
the worker would need to change positions every forty-five
minutes to an hour and lift ten pounds only occasionally. (Tr.
45). Mr. Mendrick indicated that such requirements would decrease
the number of jobs available in the economy to 5,000 for assembly
work, 1,000 for inspection, and 2,000 for hand packing. (Tr. 46).
The ALJ then qualified her statement, adjusting the sit-stand
requirement to no more than thirty minutes continuous
sitting/standing at a time and adding difficulty bending from the
waist. (Tr. 46). Mr. Mendrick testified that he would re-classify
the work as sedentary, number one, and reduce the assembly work
positions to 3,000. (Tr. 46). The vocational expert noted that
factory rates are typically set to allow ten minutes out of every
hour to be used for personal rest and stretching at the work
station. (Tr. 47). Finally, the ALJ inquired about the allowable
rate of absenteeism for the remaining jobs. (Tr. 48). Mr.
Mendrick replied that six days a year for illness would be
typical and that the most he had seen was twelve days a year.
(Tr. 48). The ALJ then closed Plaintiff's hearing, but allowed
the record to remain open for thirty days in order to allow
outstanding reports of Dr. Carlson to be added. (Tr. 49-51)
Plaintiff's earliest medical records before this court are
diagnostic tests performed at Swedish American Hospital after
Plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident on October 11,
2000. (Tr. 186-190). A CT scan of Plaintiff's abdomen showed that
Plaintiff's liver, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys were normal.
(Tr. 186). An X-ray of Plaintiff's spine revealed a slight lower
cervical kyphosis with no significant spondylosis. (Tr. 187). A
chest X-ray showed potentially some interstitial fibrosis and
scarring, but no acute findings.*fn1 (Tr. 188). A pelvis
X-ray was unremarkable. (Tr. 189). Finally, Plaintiff's lumbar spine
X-ray showed no acute osseous abnormality or spondylosis. (Tr.
190). Plaintiff was discharged after her tests and was given
prescriptions for Vicodin and Soma. (Tr. 230).
After Plaintiff's initial emergency room visit due to her car
accident, Plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Quarles on several
follow-up visits beginning October 12, 2000. (Tr. 230-231). Dr.
Quarles told Plaintiff she had suffered significant soft tissue
and ligamentous injury, cervical and thoracal lumbar strain, and
a bruising of her spleen. (Id.). Plaintiff reported that the
Vicodin that she had been prescribed to manage her pain made her
drowsy, and was in "obvious discomfort" during this visit. (Tr.
230). Dr. Quarles switched Plaintiff's Viocodin prescription to
Tylenol #3, prescribed Relafen and a soft collar, and
administered a shot of Toradol. (Tr. 230). Plaintiff was advised
to avoid vigorous activity and was told she would need six to
eight weeks to feel normal again. (Tr. 231).
Plaintiff saw Dr. Quarles again on October 24, 2000. (Tr. 228).
Plaintiff reported that she was still wearing her soft collar
because it hurt to hold her head up, and she reported that it was
extremely painful to sit still for more than thirty minutes. (Tr.
228). Dr. Quarles noted that Plaintiff had not started physical
therapy yet and informed her that she would have to do so soon.
(Tr. 228). In a follow-up with Dr. Quarles on November 30, 2000,
Plaintiff reported that she was doing better with the physical
therapy, but that she did not feel back to normal. (Tr. 227).
Plaintiff described neck pain and pain in her lower trapezius and
left sacral region to Dr. Quarles. (Tr. 227). Dr. Quarles
commented that Plaintiff's whiplash was still severe, but
improving. (Tr. 226). He continued her on Tylenol #3 and Relafen
and recommended continued physical therapy. (Tr. 226). On December 28, 2000, Dr. Quarles reported that Plaintiff had
developed lumbosacral strain that was causing Plaintiff pain in
her lower back and sciatica is her leg. (Tr. 226, 224). Though
Plaintiff had been discharged from physical therapy for two
weeks, which had much improved her neck pain, Plaintiff had
continued with compensatory posturing that caused lumbar strain.
(Id.). Dr. Quarles took an X-ray of Plaintiff's spine and noted
spondylolisthesis of L3 on L4, but no acute abnormalities. (Tr.
224). Dr. Quarles recommended that Plaintiff resume physical
therapy. (Tr. 224).
Through January 4, 2001, and February 13, 2001, Plaintiff
attended thirteen physical therapy sessions. (Tr. 162). Plaintiff
also started physical therapy on October 26, 2000, but it is
unclear how many sessions she attended. (Tr. 165). The clinical
impression projected eighteen therapy sessions. (Tr. 165).
Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Quarles on January 26, 2001, after
reentering physical therapy. (Tr. 223). Plaintiff stated that her
pain was not as severe as before, but that she was far from pain
free. (Tr. 223). Plaintiff also asked for a referral to an
orthopedist and chiropractor. (Tr. 223).
Plaintiff was examined by orthopedist, Dr. James Dougherty, on
March 8, 2001. (Tr. 145-46). Her exam revealed her to be fully
ambulatory without a limp or list. (Tr. 145). A repeat lumbar
spine series X-ray revealed no evidence of spondylolisthesis.
(Id.). Dr. Dougherty recommended that Plaintiff proceed with an
MRI and told her she may be a candidate for lumbar epidural
steroids. (Tr. 146).
On March 13, 2001, Plaintiff underwent an MRI of her lumbar
spine. (Tr. 184). The MRI revealed posterior annular tears at
L4-5 and L5-S1 and a small focal central disk protrusions
superimposed upon diffuse disk bulge at the L3-4 interspace
level. (Tr. 184). However, there was no impingement upon traversing or exiting
nerve roots and no spinal canal stenosis. (Tr. 184).
On April 10, 2001, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Weiss for possible
facet injection therapy at the Rockford Ambulatory Surgery
Center. (Tr. 154-56). Dr. Weiss's exam revealed tenderness around
Plaintiff's lumbrosacral junction. (Tr. 155). Plaintiff's range
of flexion back motion was limited to seventy degrees at which
point her pain would increase, while her range of extension was
limited to ten degrees. (Tr. 156). Dr. Weiss diagnosed mechanical
right-sided back pain and administered a facet injection during
the visit. (Id.). Plaintiff reported approximately ...