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).
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 ...