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Doris M. Archer v. Michael J. Astrue

February 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole


The plaintiff, Doris Archer, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Agency") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Ms. Archer asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.



Ms. Archer applied for DIB and SSI on January 11, 2006, alleging that she had become disabled on September 29, 2005, due to pain in her shoulder, arm, hip, and leg, and memory problems. (Administrative Record ("R.") 142-43). Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 75-78, 81-93). Ms. Archer continued pursuit of her claim by filing a timely request for hearing.

An administrative law judge ("ALJ") convened a hearing on July 17, 2008, at which Ms. Archer, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. 29-74). In addition, Michelle Peters testified as a vocational expert. (R. 29, 62-72). On December 2, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Archer was not disabled because she retained the capacity to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 14-28). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Ms. Archer's request for review of the decision on June 3, 2009. (R. 1-3). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981. Ms. Archer has appealed that decision to the federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).




Vocational Evidence Ms. Archer was born on March 23, 1972, making her thirty-six years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 154). She only went to school until ninth grade, and took special education classes throughout. (R. 34-35, 172). She can read and write "a little." (R. 35). She doesn't have much of a work history at all: one job, as a waitress, from 2002 to 2005. (R. 158).


Medical Evidence The medical record in this case is a 350-page jumble of documents in no particular order. It appears to span a time period from 1998 through 2008, but the vast majority of medical evidence pertains to 2003 through 2008. Ms. Archer points to a relatively small percentage of these documents, however, as supporting her claim of disability. They cover memory deficiencies, hearing loss, and pain in her hands, back, neck, and arm. (Plaintiff's Memorandum in support of Summary Judgment, at 6-13).


Memory Impairment Throughout the period covered by the record, Ms. Archer complained of memory problems to physicians on very few occasions. She appears to have mentioned it on a visit to her local health center on September 13, 2005, although the notes from the visit are in an illegible scrawl. (R. 272). She also mentioned in on January 11, 2000 (R. 327) and October 19, 2006 (R. 441).

Psychologist Alan Jacobs characterized Ms. Archer's long-term and short-term memory to be "mild to moderately impaired" when he evaluated her in March 2006, at the request of the Agency. (R. 355). When Dr. Stanley Rabinowitz performed a mental status examination the Agency arranged in April 2006, he found Ms. Archer's "memory was intact." (R. 350). Ms. Archer had a neurological examination with Dr. Cho in August 2006, at which time she reported her memory had worsened in the prior year and a half. (R. 424). Dr. Cho stated that his review of symptoms was "negative" for memory loss (R. 425), but there was also a reference to a "[c]hronic memory impairment [that] may be a manifestation of dementia or sequela of meningitis or daily opiod [sic] use." (R. 427). A report from Ingalls Hospital dated January 19, 2008, states that her memory was normal. (R. 523).

Ms. Archer also complained to her social worker, Michelle Gervais, about her "forgetfulness" on October 26, 2006. (R. 408). On August 28, 2006, Ms. Gervais characterized Ms. Archer's immediate recall, recent memory, and remote memory as "marked[ly]" impaired.

(R. 592). In a work setting, however, Ms. Gervais said that Ms. Archer's ability to understand and remember very short and simple instructions was "not significantly limited." (R. 410). Her ability to understand and remember detailed instructions was also "not significantly limited."

(R. 410). Her ability to remember locations and work-like procedures was "moderately limited."

(R. 410). Oddly, Ms. Gervais also reported that Ms. Archer's recent and remote memory was markedly impaired. (R. 592).

In June of 2007, Ms. Gervais opined that Ms. Archer had a bipolar disorder and reported that Ms. Archer's condition was "unchanged' since her previous report. (R. 408). But she found Ms. Archer was now markedly limited in the ability to perform activities on schedule, sustain a routine, work without being distracted by others, make simple work-related decisions, complete a work week without interruptions, and get along with co-workers. (R. 410-11).


Hearing Loss Ms. Archer also alleges hearing loss in her right ear. Dr. Rabinowitz found her hearing to be "moderately impaired with the spoken voice heard at four feet." (R. 349). She didn't use a hearing aid and "speech and communication were intact." (R. 349). Dr. Cho reported that Ms. Archer had lost her hearing in her right ear at the age of four months due to meningitis. (R. 425). So it has been a life-long condition.


Pain and Numbness in Hands A note from the clinic mentioned that Ms. Archer "states it's hard for her things [sic] with both hands due to both wrists" and "parathesias [sic] both hands." (R. 331). There was another mention of right hand pain in June 2006. (R. 382). When Dr. Rabinowitz performed his consultative examination in April 2006, he found Ms. Archer to have normal grip strength and dexterity. (R. 351).

During her neurological examination with Dr. Cho in August 2006, Ms. Archer complained of pain that "occasionally radiates down into both hands but the pain is largely in her [left] shoulder." (R. 424). She also said that "[s]he would sometimes drop things in both hands if the pain was severe." (R. 424). Ms. Archer's grip strength was 5/5 bilaterally. (R. 427). Wrist flexion and extension were normal. (R. 427). Sensation was also normal. (R. 427).

On November 28, 2007, Ms. Archer reported to Dr. Lisa Peng at the pain management clinic that she had "occasional numbness and tingling in her bilateral hands [sic] . . . ." (R. 467). A note from the University of Illinois Medical Center states that Ms. Archer complained of daily episodes of bilateral hand numbness" on April 23, 2008. (R. 572). Motor strength was normal bilaterally, and sensation to light touch was intact bilaterally in her hands. (R. 572). She said she had "difficulty grasping objects in her hands 2/2 pain" on June 23, 2008. (R. 566). Those were the only two mentions of hand difficulties during several visits over a three-month period however. (R. 562-580).


Back and Neck Pain Far more consistent were Ms. Archer complaints about her back, neck, and shoulder pain. She sought treatment for these problems regularly over the year the record covers:

9/15/99 -- back pain (R. 331) 1/11/00 -- left arm pain (R. 327) 6/13/02 -- shoulder pain (R. 324) 3/13/03 -- left shoulder pain (R. 323) 5/22/03 -- pain syndrome (R. 321) 9/13/05 -- [right] shoulder progressive over 2 years" (R. 272) 10/2/2005 -- bilateral shoulders, neck and shoulder girdle (R. 313) 10/3/05 -- bilateral shoulder pain (R. 271). 4/5/06 -- pain in the knees, hips, shoulders, low back, and neck (R. 348) 7/6/06 -- back and neck pain (R. 438) 8/3/06 -- pain in arms, greater on left; rated it 10/10 every day(R. 432) 8/14/06 -- neck pain (R. 439) 10/19/06 -- left arm pain (R. 441) 11/16/2006 -- shoulder pain (R. 420) 11/26/06 -- neck pain (R.442) 12/07/2006 -- bilateral arm, neck, and shoulder pain (R. 417) 12/21/06 -- shoulder pain (R. 443) 1/29/07 -- bilateral shoulder pain (R. 446) 5/31/07 -- left arm pain(R. 449) 7/13/07 -- shoulder and back pain relieved with medication (R. 451) 8/27/07 -- shoulder and neck pain(R. 473) 11/28/07 -- intermittent pain in neck, shoulders, arms, relieved with medication (R. 467) 11/29/07-- back and neck pain (R. 482) 1/7/08 -- back, neck, and shoulder pain (R. 483) 3/23/08 and 4/23/08 -- pain in neck radiating down arms, constantly achy but intermittently sharp; 10/10 when not taking medication, Kadian brought it to an acceptable level, 4-5/10 (R. 572, 574)

There is also a fair amount of objective medical evidence covering these problems. An x-ray of Ms. Archer's left shoulder was normal on March 27, 2003. (R. 334). On October 10, 2005, Dr. Jacob Manual noted that Ms. Archer had a good range of motion in her shoulders and neck. (R. 434). There was tenderness in her shoulders. (R. 434). Strength and sensation were normal. (R. 434).

In April 2006, during his consultative examination, Dr. Rabinowitz found Ms. Archer's range of motion was normal throughout the back and in all joints of the arms and legs, although there was crepitus in Ms. Archer's knees (R. 350). Straight leg raising was negative in the seated and supine positions. (R. 351). Reflexes and motor strength were normal (R. 350). The consulting psychologist, Dr. Alan Jacobs, said on May 17, 2006, that he thought Ms. Archer's problems might be due to somatoform disorder and histrionic personality disorder. (R. 355).

On August 3, 2006, an MRI of Ms. Archer's cervical spine revealed disc bulging at C5-C6 and C6-C7, but no central canal or foraminal stenosis. (R. 424). There was weakness in her triceps and biceps, and diminished sensation, and this was more pronounced in her left arm. (R. 432). Reflexes were normal. (R. 432). Ms. Archer's range of motion in her neck was decreased due to pain. (R. 433). On August 10, 2007, Ms. Archer had a cervical epidural steroid injection.

(R. 553).

On November 17, 2006, Dr. Englehard reported that Ms. Archer exhibit weakness in her triceps and biceps, more on the left, and numbness predominantly in the C7 dermatome. (R. 422).*fn1 A CT of Ms. Archer's cervical spine revealed multilevel mild ...

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