United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
January 10, 2005.
YVONNE LOFTON, Plaintiff,
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL MASON, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Yvonne Lofton ("Lofton" or "plaintiff") has brought
a motion for summary judgment seeking judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied Lofton's claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security
Income Benefits ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"),
42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(d). The Commissioner 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).
For the following reasons, we deny Lofton's motion and grant the
Commissioner's motion, affirming the decision of the ALJ.
Lofton filed an application for period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on April 22, 1998. (R. 54). In her
application, she alleged an onset date of June 15, 1997. Id.
Lofton's claim was denied initially on August 10, 1998 and upon
reconsideration on September 30, 1998. On October 6, 1998, Lofton
filed a timely Request for Hearing. (R. 41). After due notice, ALJ Helen Cropper held a hearing on July
20, 1999. (R. 171). Lofton appeared and testified at the hearing.
Id. On July 27, 1999, ALJ Cropper denied plaintiff's claim. (R.
16-27). The ALJ found that Lofton did not become disabled prior
to the expiration of her date last insured ("DLI"), June 30,
1998.*fn1 Id. Furthermore, ALJ Cropper found that
plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform
a wide range of light work during that time and could have
performed both her past relevant work and other jobs prior to
June 30, 1998. (R. 26). The Social Security Administration's
Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on June 30,
2000. (R. 6-7).
Lofton subsequently filed an action in the district court. The
parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and Magistrate
Judge Morton Denlow heard oral argument on the motions. The
parties then entered into a joint stipulation to remand the claim
for a supplemental hearing and decision. (R. 231). The
stipulation provided as follows:
The ALJ will be directed to evaluate the evidence
from Cook County Hospital which contains the
diagnoses of degenerative joint disease of the left
hip and knee. Evidence from a board-certified
orthopedist will be obtained to assist in determining
the claimant's residual functional capacity. The ALJ
will also be directed to reassess the claimant's
subjective complaints of pain and limitations in
accordance with SSR 96-7p. Additional evidence from a
vocational expert will be obtained to assist in
determining whether the claimant can return to her
past relevant work or perform other work. The
claimant will be given the opportunity to submit
additional evidence for the relevant period and
appear at a hearing.
(R. 231). The Appeals Council remanded the case to ALJ Cropper
and issued the following remand order:
After a careful review of the record of evidence,
[the ALJ's opinion] fails to sufficiently state the
basis for finding that the claimant would be off task
for less than five percent of the work day. In addition, the record
does not show that the consultative examiner, Dr.
Shermer, was aware of the x-ray findings which showed
that the claimant has degenerative joint disease in
her left hip and knee.
The Appeals Council believes that the file would
benefit from a reevaluation and consideration of the
two above factors.
On April 25, 2002, ALJ Cropper held the remand hearing. (R.
250). However, plaintiff's counsel objected to the competency of
the medical expert present at the hearing and opted to reschedule
the remand hearing. (R. 271). The ALJ held another remand hearing
("the second remand hearing") on June 19, 2002. (R. 290-333). At
that hearing, plaintiff's nephew, Mr. Eddie Drake, testified on
her behalf. (R. 301). Dr. Daniel Girzadas, an orthopedic medical
expert, and vocational expert Dr. Chrisann Schiro-Geist also
testified. (R. 311, 320). At the second remand hearing,
plaintiff's counsel informed the ALJ that he could not obtain the
November 1997 x-ray reports that were referenced in the Appeals
Council's remand order because Cook County Hospital had purged
the records. (R.300). On September 26, 2003, ALJ Cropper issued a
second decision denying Lofton's claim. (R. 230-249). Plaintiff
waived the right to file exceptions with the Appeals Council in
order to file directly with this court pursuant to
20 C.F.R. § 404.984. Lofton filed a civil action in the district court on
January 22, 2004.
Yvonne Lofton was born on February 24, 1944. (R. 54). Her
highest level of education is the tenth grade and she has no
formal vocational training. (R. 192). However, Lofton can read
and write and perform basic arithmetic. Id. She claims that she
was disabled and unable to work prior to her DLI of June 30, 1998
and since that time due to severe pain in her knee, back and hip areas and also due to
diabetes-related symptoms. (R. 178, 187).
Lofton testified that she has daily, severe pain in her knees,
hip and back areas to the extent that she has trouble walking
more than two blocks without rest. (R. 178). She testified that
she has been experiencing these symptoms since October 1997. (R.
180). Lofton claimed that she was diagnosed with diabetes in
October 1997. Id. Plaintiff also testified that, when she wakes
up in the morning, she experiences severe stiffness and soreness
such that she does not want to get out of bed. (R. 183). She
testified that she does a minimal amount of housework, that she
is unable to cook and that she must have someone accompany her to
go grocery shopping. (R. 185). Lofton said that her daily
activities were, for the most part, reduced to watching
Lofton testified that she takes Tylenol for her pain but that
it does not fully relieve her symptoms. (R. 178-179). In
addition, plaintiff takes medication to control her glucose
level, but testified that she still has symptoms of feeling
off-balance. (R. 182).
Mr. Drake's Testimony
At the second remand hearing, plaintiff's nephew, Eddie Drake,
testified on her behalf. Mr. Drake was 29 years old at the time
of his testimony. (R. 301). He testified that he saw Lofton
nearly every day during the relevant time period. Id. He also
testified that Lofton was having trouble walking at that time
because of problems she was having with her leg. (R. 302). He
testified that she would stumble a lot and often needed help
walking. Id. Mr. Drake testified that Lofton would often want
to sit and rest. Id. Finally, he testified that, in the end of
1997, he helped with certain household work that Lofton was
unable to do. (R. 305).
Lofton visited Cook County Hospital and several Fantus clinics
on a frequent basis beginning in October 1997. Lofton visited a
Fantus gynecology clinic in October 1997 for menopause-related
symptoms. (R. 109). At that visit, Lofton indicated that her only
other current medical problem was "borderline" diabetes, for
which she was taking oral medication. Id. Lofton visited Cook
County Hospital's emergency room on November 18, 1997 because she
had missed a general medicine clinic appointment and needed a new
appointment. (R. 122-123). Plaintiff reported to the ER doctor
that she had been having left hip pain which seemed to originate
in the low back and also affected her left knee. Id. She
reported experiencing the pain, which was getting worse, for the
preceding month. Id. The ER doctor noted that Lofton had a
left-sided limp and decreased left hip range of motion. Id.
Plaintiff was prescribed Motrin and referred for x-rays, which
were apparently taken but not read. Id. These November 1997
x-rays were purged by Cook County Hospital sometime in 2002. (R.
233). The ER doctor diagnosed plaintiff with "degenerative joint
disease, left knee and hip." (R. 123). Lofton was instructed to
return if her pain or weakness worsened or if she felt any new
symptoms. (R. 123).
On November 21, 1997, Lofton's medical records indicate that
she complained of left knee pain and was given a prescription for
extended relief Tylenol. (R. 107). Plaintiff was referred to
physical therapy at that time but apparently did not follow up on
the referral. (R. 107, R. 242).
Lofton had an initial visit in the Fantus diabetes clinic on
May 22, 1998. (R. 103). She followed up at the general medicine clinic on May 29, 1998.
(R. 101). No medical complaints were reported at either of these
visits. (R. 101, 103). On May 29, 1998, Lofton's blood sugar was
not well controlled and her dose of Glipizide was increased. (R.
101). A week later, in the diabetes clinic, plaintiff's
medication was changed. (R. 98, 100). Lofton visited the diabetes
clinic twice in August 1998. (R. 149-150). On both occasions,
there were no reported complaints about her condition. Id.
Lofton had two consultative exams in connection with her
disability claim. On July 24, 1998, she was examined by Dr.
Alvaro Rios, an internist. (R. 124). Lofton reported that her
medical problems included diabetes, hypertension and arthritis.
Id. Lofton complained of back pain radiating to the left leg.
Id. She indicated that the pain had been going on for five
years but that it was relieved by over the counter medication.
Id. Dr. Rios noted that Lofton had high blood pressure and
tenderness and decreased range of motion of the lumbar spine. (R.
126). Her gait, ambulation and neurological examination were
within normal limits. Id. Dr. Rios offered the following
clinical impressions: 1) plaintiff suffered from diabetes with no
evidence of end organ damage; 2) plaintiff suffered from
hypertension with no evidence of end organ damage; and 3)
plaintiff most likely suffered from degenerative joint disease
which caused her to have a history of back pain and a decreased
range of motion. Id. An x-ray of Lofton's lumbosacral spine
that was taken on July 24, 1998 showed "mild osteoarthritis." (R.
On April 12, 1999, Lofton was examined by Dr. Richard Shermer,
an orthopedic consultant. (R. 163). At the time of the
examination, Lofton complained of pain in her knees, back and
left hip. (R. 164). Dr. Shermer noted that plaintiff's knees
showed no swelling or thickening. (R. 165). Lofton had reduced range of
motion of the back and hips, but normal bilateral knee range of
motion. (R. 165, 167). Dr. Shermer described Lofton's gait as
shuffling and Lofton stated that she could not squat. (R. 164).
During the examination, Lofton said that she was unable to raise
her left leg for the straight leg raise test, but Dr. Shermer
noted that plaintiff exhibited "much posturing and no voluntary
effort" during the examination. (R. 165).
Dr. Shermer also reviewed the July 24, 1998 x-ray report and
diagnosed Lofton with Lumbosacral Pain Syndrome and Lumbar
osteoarthritis. (R. 167). Dr. Shermer noted that Lofton suffered
from a moderate element of arthritis of the lumbar spine. Id.
He also noted that the pain component of Lofton's symptoms was
not related to the examination findings and that the pain
component had a significant subjective relationship. Id.
Subsequent to the examination, Dr. Shermer completed an RFC
form and opined that plaintiff retained the RFC to perform almost
a full range of light work. (R. 239, R. 168-170). Dr. Shermer
indicated that Lofton could lift, carry, push and pull up to 20
pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently, and that she
had no limitation from her medical problems on her ability to
sit, stand or walk. (R. 168-169). Dr. Shermer based his opinion
primarily on Lofton's subjective complaints. (R. 170).
Dr. Paul LaFata also reviewed Lofton's medical records and
prepared an RFC form at the request of the state Disability
Determination Service ("DDS"). Dr. LaFata opined that Lofton had
the RFC, prior to expiration of her DLI,*fn2 to perform
close to a full range of light work. (R. 132-139). He found that
plaintiff could lift, carry, push and pull up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently, and that she could
sit, stand and/or walk for a combined total of six hours. Id.
Dr. LaFata indicated that plaintiff could stoop occasionally.
Id. Dr. LaFata's opinion was based on Lofton's controlled
diabetes and hypertension, the degenerative joint disease in
plaintiff's left hip and knee, her decreased range of motion in
the lumbosacral spine, and her pain in the lumbosacral spine, hip
and knee. Id. Dr. Boyd McCracken later reviewed the records and
indicated that he agreed with Dr. LaFata's RFC assessment. (R.
At the second remand hearing, Dr. Daniel Girzadas, an
orthopedic medical expert, testified. (R. 310). Dr. Girzadas did
not examine the plaintiff; rather, his testimony was based on his
review of Lofton's previous medical records. Id. Dr. Girzadas
testified that Lofton's impairments diabetes, hypertension and
osteoarthritis do impose functional limitations upon her. Id.
However, he then substantiated and agreed with Dr. Shermer's
previous RFC opinion as consistent with Dr. Shermer's examination
of the plaintiff and with the other objective medical evidence of
record. (R. 315). Dr. Girzadas opined that the findings reflected
a probable condition of mild degenerative arthritis of the hip
and knee. (R. 314). With regard to the Lofton's arthritis, he
testified that increasing activity, a sudden turn, quick move or
even lifting a child could cause arthritic "flare-ups." (R. 318).
However, Dr. Girzadas also testified that these "flare-ups" are
not severe and can be relieved with the use of over the counter
pain medication. (R. 320). In his opinion, an arthritic
"flare-up" of this nature could happen to anyone who has a small
amount of arthritis. Id.
On May 1, 2003, Lofton had additional x-rays of her left knee
and hip taken. (R. 233). Dr. John Gall, the radiologist who
administered the x-rays, reported that the left knee showed only "minor osteoporotic changes." (R. 471). The left hip
x-ray showed only "minor degenerative changes" and "mild
osteoporotic changes." (R. 472).
Vocational Expert's Testimony
At the initial hearing, on July 20, 1999, the testifying
vocational expert was Dr. Michael Komie, a licensed clinical
psychologist and certified rehabilitation counselor. (R. at 210).
Dr. Komie testified that Lofton's most recent past relevant work
was a housekeeper/home health aid. (R. 220). Dr. Komie testified
that the housekeeper/home health aid job was a light and
unskilled job. Id. Plaintiff also had worked part-time as a
food demonstrator, which Dr. Komie described as light and
unskilled. Id. Dr. Komie testified that a person with the RFC
to perform a wide range of work at the light exertional level
could be expected to perform plaintiff's past relevant work. (R.
222). Such a person also could be expected to perform jobs as a
cashier, counter and rental clerk, and food preparer. Id. Dr.
Komie testified that at the sedentary level, there are jobs
available such as sedentary cashier, telemarketer and switchboard
operator. (R. 222-223). He further testified that at either the
light or sedentary work level, a person could perform the job
even if he or she was distracted by pain for up to five percent
of the work day. (R. 223). Moreover, he testified that an
employer would be likely to tolerate an employee being off task
five percent of the day exclusive of breaks and lunch. (R.
At the second remand hearing, on June 19, 2002, the testifying
vocational expert was Dr. Chrisann Schiro-Geist. (R. 320). Dr.
Schiro-Geist testified that Lofton's housekeeper/home health aid
job was light and unskilled, both as she had performed it and as
it typically is performed. (R. 321-22, R. 244). She testified
that a hypothetical person with plaintiff's RFC could perform plaintiff's past relevant work
as a housekeeper/home health aid as well as a variety of other
jobs. Id. Specifically, such a person could perform work as a
cashier at the light and sedentary level, a photo clerk, a
reception or information clerk, an usher or a job in food
preparation. Id. An employer in any of these fields would be
unlikely to tolerate an employee spending more than 8-10% of the
work day off-task, exclusive of lunch and breaks. Id.
Consequently, if an employee is subject to frequent distractions,
then he or she could not be competitively employed. (R. 323).
Standard of Review
We must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and free from legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence and is
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Diaz v. Chafer, 55 F.3d 300,
305 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). We must consider the entire administrative
record, but we will not "reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts,
decide questions of credibility, or substitute our own judgment
for that of the Commissioner." Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535,
539 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863,
869 (7th Cir. 2000)). We will "conduct a critical review of the
evidence" and will not let the Commissioner's decision stand "if
it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues." Id. While the ALJ "must build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion," she need not
discuss every piece of evidence in the record. Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ must
"sufficiently articulate [her] assessment of the evidence to
`assure us that the ALJ considered the important evidence . . . [and to enable] us to
trace the path of the ALJ's reasoning.'" Carlson v. Shalala,
999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993) (per curiam) (quoting Stephens
v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287 (7th Cir. 1985)).
A person is disabled under the Act if "he or she has an
inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason
of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve
months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In determining whether a
claimant is disabled, the ALJ must consider the following
five-step inquiry: "(1) whether the claimant is currently
employed, (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment, (3)
whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner
considers conclusively disabling, (4) if the claimant does not
have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether she can perform
her past relevant work, and (5) whether the claimant is capable
of performing any work in the national economy." Dixon,
270 F.3d at 1176. The claimant has the burden of establishing a
disability at steps one through four. Zurawski v. Halter,
245 F.3d 881, 885-86 (7th Cir. 2001).
The ALJ followed this five step analysis.*fn3 At step one,
the ALJ found that plaintiff was not engaged in substantial
gainful activity. Although the plaintiff did perform some work
activities after her alleged onset date, the work in which she
engaged was never sustained for long enough to be considered
substantial gainful activity. Id. At step two of the analysis,
the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from non-insulin dependant
diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), hypertension and arthritis, which are all
severe impairments in that they imposed at least minimal
restrictions on plaintiff's ability to perform work related
activities. At step three, the ALJ found that although
plaintiff's ailments were severe, they did not equal any
impairment that the Commissioner considered conclusively
disabling. Therefore, the ALJ moved onto step four to analyze the
vocational factors to determine whether Lofton could perform her
past relevant work.
On remand, the ALJ reconsidered steps four and five. At step
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform a wide
range of light work at all times prior to her DLI, June 30, 1998.
(R. 244). Furthermore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff "would
not have been distracted more than rarely by pain fatigue,
dizziness and/or any other symptoms, to a degree that she was off
task and nonproductive during that time." Id. Consequently, the
ALJ found that Lofton could have performed her past relevant work
as a housekeeper/home health aid, relying on the testimony of the
two vocational experts. (R. 244). Although such a finding at step
four would have been sufficient to end the inquiry, the ALJ
considered step five in the alternative. (R. 245). At step five,
the ALJ found that Lofton "retained the capacity to make a
vocational adjustment to a significant number of light jobs in
the national economy." (R. 246-247). Accordingly, the ALJ found
that Lofton was not disabled prior to June 30, 1998. Id. Again,
the ALJ's step five analysis was based on the testimony of the
two vocational experts. Id.
Steps one through three of the ALJ's decision are not at issue
here. Thus, we must determine whether the ALJ's step four
analysis and finding that Lofton had the RFC to perform her past
relevant work is supported by substantial evidence and free from
legal error. Lofton makes a number of arguments to support her
request for remand to the ALJ. As discussed more fully below, these arguments are unpersuasive.
The Appeals Council's Remand Order
Lofton first argues that remand is appropriate because the ALJ
did not follow the Appeals Council's remand order. The ALJ is
obligated to take any action that is required by the remand
order. 20 C.F.R. § 404.977(b). Lofton argues that, without any
explanation, the ALJ once again found that plaintiff would not be
interrupted by pain, fatigue, dizziness or other symptoms more
than rarely. However, we conclude that the ALJ did support this
finding. It is clear from the opinion that the ALJ considered
Lofton's subjective complaints, Mr. Drake's testimony, Lofton's
contemporaneous statements to her medical providers, her
contemporaneous medical records and Lofton's statements to a DDS
claims manager in June 1998. Simply put, the ALJ did not find
Lofton's testimony to be credible in light of conflicting
statements she made in June 1998 and the fact that the
contemporaneous medical records do not contain repeated
complaints of joint pain, dizziness or fatigue. Furthermore, the
ALJ found that Lofton would be distracted only rarely because her
occasional pain was relieved by over the counter medication and
her other symptoms occurred infrequently.
Lofton also contends that the ALJ failed to consider the fact
that when Dr. Shermer issued his report, he was not aware of
November 1997 x-ray findings which show that Lofton has
degenerative joint disease in her left hip and knee. We disagree.
In particular, the ALJ reevaluated the file and obtained
additional evidence from a board-certified orthopedist, Dr.
Girzadas. The ALJ specifically questioned Dr. Girzadas about the
fact that the x-rays at issue could not be produced and about
other medical records which indicate that Lofton has degenerative
joint disease. Dr. Girzadas agreed with Dr. Shermer's RFC opinion because it was consistent with Dr. Shermer's examination
of plaintiff and with the other objective medical evidence of
record. Furthermore, in determining Lofton's RFC, the ALJ
considered not only the opinions of Drs. Shermer and Girzadas,
but also the medical records showing Lofton's degenerative joint
disease. Accordingly, we find that the ALJ properly followed the
Appeals Council's remand order by reevaluating the evidence and
considering the fact that Dr. Shermer did not have access to the
November 1997 x-rays when he issued his report.
Lofton further argues that the ALJ should have submitted to Dr.
Girzadas x-rays of the plaintiff that were taken after Dr.
Girzadas had testified at the second remand hearing. The Appeals
Council's remand order references x-rays that were taken in
November 1997. However, those x-rays no longer exist. As a
result, plaintiff had new x-rays taken on her left hip and knee
on May 1, 2003. Lofton argues that, in order to comply with the
remand order, the ALJ was required to submit these new x-rays to
Dr. Girzadas. We do not agree. The May 2003 x-rays were taken
five years after Lofton's DLI and the radiologist's report
indicates only minor degenerative changes. Moreover, the ALJ
considered these x-rays in determining Lofton's RFC. Therefore,
we find that the ALJ had no duty to submit the new x-rays to Dr.
Additionally, contrary to Lofton's suggestion, we find that the
ALJ complied with the parties' joint stipulation to remand
entered by Judge Denlow. The ALJ's opinion indicates that she
evaluated the degenerative joint disease evidence; allowed Lofton
to submit additional evidence; obtained additional evidence from
a vocational expert, Dr. Schiro-Geist; and obtained additional
evidence from a board-certified orthopedist, Dr. Girzadas. As
discussed more fully below, the ALJ also reassessed Lofton's
subjective complaints of pain and limitations in accordance with SSR 96-7p. Accordingly,
we find that the ALJ complied with the parties' joint
The ALJ's Credibility Determination
Lofton contends that the ALJ's credibility determination was
not supported by the evidence. To succeed on this ground, Lofton
must overcome the highly deferential standard that we accord
credibility determinations. Because the ALJ is best positioned to
evaluate the credibility of a witness, we reverse the ALJ's
credibility finding only if it is "patently wrong." Powers v.
Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 435 (7th Cir. 2000). However, when
questioning the claimant's credibility as to symptoms of pain,
the ALJ must follow the specific requirements set forth in SSR
SSR 96-7p requires the ALJ to consider whether there is an
underlying "determinable physical or mental impairment that could
reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms." SSR 96-7p;
Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 702 (7th Cir. 2004). Once
this has been established, the ALJ must further evaluate the
"intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of the
symptoms" in order to determine whether those symptoms "affect
the individual's ability to do basic work activities." Id. The
ALJ then considers the credibility of the claimant in light of
"the entire case record, including the objective medical
evidence, the individual's own statements about symptoms,
statements and other information provided by treating or
examining physicians or psychologists and other persons about the
symptoms and how they affect the individual, and any other
relevant evidence in the case record." Id.
Here, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from non-insulin
dependant diabetes mellitus, hypertension and arthritis. The ALJ recognized that
these impairments could reasonably be expected to produce
Lofton's allegations of pain, dizziness and fatigue. In
accordance with SSR 96-7p, the ALJ then considered the following
in evaluating Lofton's reported symptoms: Lofton's daily
activities; the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of
her symptoms; precipitating and aggravating factors; the type,
dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication; her
course of treatment; any measures other than treatment that
Lofton uses or has used to relieve her symptoms; and any other
factors concerning her functional limitations and restrictions
due to her pain or other symptoms. The ALJ also considered Mr.
Drake's testimony, Lofton's contemporaneous statements to her
medical providers, her contemporaneous medical records, and
Lofton's statements to a DDS claims manager in June 1998.
In the opinion, the ALJ outlined the medical evidence in the
record and found that it did not support Lofton's claim that she
suffered from continuous pain, fatigue and dizziness since
October 1997. Specifically, the ALJ stated that although
plaintiff visited medical clinics quite frequently, there is only
one significant documented complaint of severe joint pain prior
to June 1998. Additionally, the ALJ indicated that after
plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in her
left knee and hip in November 1997, she was not referred to an
arthritis, orthopedic or neurological clinic and plaintiff failed
to follow up on her physical therapy referral. The ALJ also cited
to the fact that Lofton did not request prescription strength
medication, she was not prescribed prescription strength
medication for pain or inflammation, she did not advise her
doctors of the constant debilitating pain and she did not seek a
referral to a specialty clinic.
Furthermore, the ALJ noted that the records from the diabetes
clinic contradicted Lofton's testimony about the frequency of symptoms consistent
with poorly controlled blood sugar. The ALJ also indicated that
plaintiff's complaints were inconsistent with statements she made
to a DDS claims manager about her daily activities in June 1998.
Finally, while the ALJ considered Mr. Drake's testimony in
support of plaintiff's complaints, she noted that Mr. Drake could
not recall Lofton's daily activities and circumstances during a
period so remote in the past.
The ALJ may not discredit a claimant's subjective complaints of
severe pain simply because they are not supported by objective
evidence. Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 753 (7th Cir.
2004). However, the ALJ is entitled to give more weight to a
claimant's contemporaneous statement than to statements that are
made at the hearing to determine eligibility for benefits.
Brewer v. Chater, 103 F.3d 1384, 1392 (7th Cir. 1997). Here,
the ALJ did not disregard Lofton's complaints of pain simply
because they were unsupported by medical evidence. To the
contrary, the ALJ decided to give more weight to the fact that
Lofton's contemporaneous statements during pre-DLI hospital
visits did not contain complaints of severe pain, dizziness or
fatigue. The ALJ found that the contemporaneous statements (or
lack thereof) were more believable than the statements Lofton
made at the hearing to determine whether she was entitled to
disability benefits taking place several years after the relevant
time period had expired.
As detailed above, the ALJ cited specific reasons for her
credibility determination. We find that the ALJ adequately
addressed the factors in SSR 96-7p and her credibility
determination is supported by substantial evidence. "No principle
of administrative law or common sense requires us to remand a
case in quest of a perfect opinion unless there is reason to
believe that the remand might lead to a different result."
Fisher v. Brown, 869 F.2d 1055, 1057 (7th Cir. 1989). The ALJ's credibility
determination is not "patently wrong" and will not be overturned.
The ALJ's RFC Finding
Lofton makes a number of arguments regarding the ALJ's RFC
analysis. In particular, Lofton argues that the ALJ dismissed the
testimony about her inability to perform physical activities;
that the ALJ ignored her complaints of pain, slowness, fatigue
and balance problems; and that the ALJ failed to evaluate her
medical situation as a whole because she did not consider
plaintiff's high glucose level and blood pressure. However, the
ALJ did not arbitrarily dismiss evidence favorable to Lofton as
she suggests. Instead, the ALJ found that she could not give full
credibility to plaintiff's testimony or to Mr. Drake's testimony.
The ALJ also considered Dr. Girzadas' testimony that it is
possible for a person with diabetes or hypertension to experience
dizziness, fatigue or disequilibrium. Nevertheless, the ALJ found
that Lofton's medical records were inconsistent with her claims
about the frequency of symptoms associated with poorly controlled
Lofton further argues that the opinions of Dr. Shermer and Dr.
Girzadas cannot be deemed substantial evidence to support the RFC
determination because the doctors only considered Lofton's back
problems. This argument is unpersuasive. First, Dr. Girzadas did
consider Lofton's diabetes and hypertension as the ALJ's opinion
indicates. Second, even if the doctors only considered Lofton's
back or musculoskeletal problems, the ALJ made it perfectly clear
that she considered all of Lofton's complaints and the other
circumstances of Lofton's life in determining Lofton's RFC. While
the ALJ gave significant weight to Dr. Shermer, Dr. Girzadas, Dr.
LaFata and Dr. McCracken's consistent opinions, the ALJ also
considered plaintiff's complaints, Mr. Drake's testimony, all of
plaintiff's medical records and plaintiff's life circumstances. After
reevaluating all of the evidence and making a credibility
determination with respect to plaintiff's complaints, the ALJ
determined that Lofton had the RFC, at all times prior to June
30, 1998, to perform a wide range of light work. The ALJ's
opinion states the specific reasons why she found Lofton and
Drake's testimony to be lacking in credibility and why she gave
greater weight to the opinions of Dr. Shermer and Dr. Girzadas.
Here, the ALJ's opinion sets forth a logical bridge from the
evidence to her conclusion and therefore, we find that the ALJ's
RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence.
Past Relevant Work
Lofton contends that the ALJ erred in finding that she could
perform her past relevant work. A person is able to perform her
past relevant work at step four, if she can either perform her
actual past relevant job, or perform her past relevant job as it
is normally performed in the economy. Anderson v. Bowen,
868 F.2d 921, 925 n. 11 (7th Cir. 1989); see also SSR 82-61 ("a
claimant will be found to be `not disabled' when it is determined
that he or she retains the RFC to perform (1) the actual
functional demands and job duties of a particular past relevant
job or (2) the functional demands and job duties of the
occupation as generally required by employers throughout the
The ALJ found that Lofton could perform her actual past
relevant job as a housekeeper/home health aid as she had
performed it. Lofton claims that she could not perform her past
relevant work as she had performed it because she could not walk
or stand well, she needed to keep her legs elevated, she could
not perform any physical activity and she was unable to sustain a
normal workday. However, these allegations are supported only by Lofton and Mr. Drake's testimony, which the ALJ
found to lack credibility. The ALJ supported her conclusion that
Lofton could perform her past relevant work by relying on two
vocational experts. Both experts testified that Lofton's work as
a housekeeper/home health aid, as she had performed it, was light
and unskilled. Furthermore, both experts testified that a
hypothetical person like plaintiff could perform plaintiff's
actual past relevant job. Accordingly, we find that the ALJ's
determination that Lofton could perform her past relevant work as
a housekeeper/home health aid is supported by substantial
Lofton also argues the ALJ failed to follow SSR 00-4p, which
requires the ALJ to inquire into whether any inconsistencies
exist between the vocational expert's testimony and the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") (4th Ed., 1991).
Lofton claims that the vocational experts' testimony conflicted
with the DOT because the DOT describes a housekeeper as a skilled
job while the vocational experts testified that it is an
unskilled job. SSR 00-4p states that in making disability
determinations, the adjudicators rely primarily on the DOT for
information about the requirements of work in the national
economy. Here, however, the ALJ's finding was not based on
Lofton's ability to perform her past work as it is normally
performed in the national economy. Instead, the ALJ found that
Lofton could perform her actual past relevant job as a
housekeeper/home health aid. Consequently, SSR 00-4p does not
Other Work and the Borderline Age Analysis
Finally, Lofton argues that the ALJ erred at step five in
concluding that Lofton was able to perform other work during the
relevant time period and that she was not in a "borderline age
situation" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(b). However, the step five
inquiry is only relevant if there is a finding at step four that Lofton
could not perform her past relevant work. As detailed above, we
agree with the ALJ's determination that Lofton had the RFC to
perform her past relevant work. Therefore, we need not address
the step five issues relating to Lofton's ability to perform
other work and the borderline age analysis.
For the reasons set forth above, we find that the ALJ built an
accurate and logical bridge between the record evidence and her
conclusion that Lofton could perform her actual past relevant job
as a housekeeper/home health aid. Therefore, we conclude that the
ALJ's findings at step four are free from legal error and
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Lofton's motion
for summary judgment is denied and the Commissioner's motion for
summary judgment is granted. The decision of the ALJ is affirmed.
It is so ordered.