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Hofman v. Astrue

June 24, 2009

JOHN S. HOFMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff John S. Hofman appeals the denial of his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 9); Defendant Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (d/e 12). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance is ALLOWED and Hofman's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED. The Decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Hofman was born on September 18, 1960. He completed high school and one semester of college. He has worked as a security guard, telemarketer, and counter clerk. Answer (d/e 8), attached Certified Record of Proceedings Before the Social Security Administration (R.), at 127. He last worked as a janitor. That employment ended the fall of 2003. R. 27. He claimed that he has been disabled due to back problems since December 31, 2002.

In March 2003, MRI studies of Hofman's back were performed at the Capitol Community Health Center in Springfield, Illinois. The MRI studies showed two large disc herniations and three other disc bulges in his lumbar spine. R. 210. The notes from the Capitol Community Health Center also showed positive muscle spasms and limited range of motion. R. 221.

On August 31, 2005, Vittal Chapa, M.D., conducted a consultative examination of Hofman. Dr. Chapa stated that Hofman was able to bear weight and to ambulate without any ambulatory needs, and his gait was steady. Dr. Chapa noted a mild amount of paravertaebral muscle spasms. He also noted some decreased pinprick sensation in his left leg. Dr. Chapa did not review any medical records when he conducted his examination. R. 233-36.

On September 9, 2005, a state agency physician Charles Kenney, M.D., reviewed Hofman's medical records and performed a physical residual functional capacity assessment. Dr. Kenney opined that Hofman could: (1) lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; (2) sit, stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8 hour day; (3) push and/or pull without limitation; and (4) occasionally use ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. R. 239-46.

In October 2005, Hofman went to Capitol Community Health Center complaining of lower back and hip pain. He was seen by Dinraj Hegde, M.D. Hip x-rays were normal. Another MRI showed degenerative disc disease with stenosis, disc bulges, and disc protrusions. R. 258-62, 265.*fn1 Dr. Hegde referred him to a neurosurgeon, but the referral was denied. Hofman did not want to see an orthopedist or a physical therapist. R. 291.

Hofman saw Dr. Hegde again in January 2006. Dr. Hegde indicated in his notes that Hofman had difficulty walking at that time. R. 290. In February 2006, Hofman agreed to see orthopedist Per Freitag, M.D. Dr. Freitag found diffuse tenderness in his back. His gait was near normal. Dr. Freitag reviewed the October 2005 MRI and stated that Hofman had cervical degenerative disc disease, but was "without significant canal compromise or foraminal stenosis." R. 272-73. Dr. Freitag ordered another MRI and recommended epidural lumbar spine steroid shots. In April 2006, Dr. Freitag reviewed the new MRI and found stenosis in the cervical spine. Dr. Freitag again recommended epidural lumbar spine steroid shots. R. 274.

In September 2006, Hofman saw Dr. Hegde again. Hofman had fallen on some stairs. R. 279. On September 19, 2006, Dr. Hegde wrote a note that said:

Mr. John Hoffman (sic) is a patient in this clinic and has been for several months. Mr. Hoffman has had back pain for years and it has worsened over the past several month. Mr. Hoffman has had two MRI's in 2003 and the other in 2005. The latter shows no improvement in disc bulge. The MRI also shows severe multi level degenerative disc disease and spondylosis, causing severe central stenosis. Mr. Hoffman has difficulty walking and uses a cane. He is unable to work currently until further reevaluation in 4 months.

R. 275.

Dr. Hegde ordered x-rays in May 2007, but the x-rays showed no significant abnormalities. R. 311. In July 2007, Hofman saw Dr. Hegde again. Dr. Hegde diagnosed Hofman with depression and prescribed Paxil. Dr. Hegde also indicated that Hofman had received two epidural spine steroid shots for pain. R. 304.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on September 12, 2007. Hofman testified and a vocational expert Dr. James Lanier testified at the hearing. Hofman testified that he was single and lived alone in a first-floor apartment. He testified that he took Paxil for his nerves, and ibuprofen and Tylenol for his back pain. R. 29. Hofman said that his doctor recommended stronger, narcotic-type pain medication, but Hofman said that he did not have the insurance to pay for them. He also had a drug problem in the past, and so, did not want to take ...


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