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Gani Lecaj v. Michael Astrue

March 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Michael T. Mason


Michael T. Mason, United States Magistrate Judge:

Plaintiff, Gani Lecaj ("Lecaj" or "claimant"), has brought a motion for summary judgment [15] seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied Lecaj's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I) and 423(d). The Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment [19] 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 reasons set forth below, Lecaj's motion for summary judgment is denied and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted.


A. Procedural History

Lecaj filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI")on October 22, 2004, alleging a disability beginning May 31, 1991 due to a "crushed left hand." (R. 43). The Administration denied claimant's request for benefits initially on January 1, 2005, and again on June 14, 2005 after a timely request for reconsideration. (R. 45-49, 50, 52-55). Lecaj then filed a timely request for a hearing. (R. 56). Lecaj appeared with counsel at ahearing on January 9, 2008 before ALJ Paul Armstrong ("ALJ" or "ALJ Armstrong").*fn1 (R. 254-293). On April 21, 2008, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Lecaj's request for benefits. (R. 33-40). On May 8, 2008 and July 10, 2008, Lecaj filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 17-18, 24-26). The Appeals Council denied Lecaj's request for review on August 26, 2008. (R. 14-16). Lecaj then filed another request for review on October 28, 2008. (R. 11). Along with that request, Lecaj submitted the opinion of Dr. Nestor M. Ivkov ("Dr. Ivkov"), which indicated that Lecaj suffered from chronic reflex sympathetic dystrophy ("RSD") (R. 11-13). On January 23, 2009, after considering the additional information, the Appeals Council again denied Lecaj's request for review, at which time the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 7-9); See Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 883 (7th Cir. 2001). Lecaj subsequently filed this action.

B. Medical History

Lecaj suffered a crush injury to his left hand on May 31, 1990. (R. 181). Dr. Ramasamv Kalimuthu ("Dr. Kalimuthu"), a treating physician from Suburban Plastic Surgery, S.C., reported that Lecaj underwent surgery at Christ Hospital on June 6, 1990 for "closed reduction and percutaneous pinning of the fractures." (Id.). After his initial surgery, Lecaj was discharged on June 9, 1990 and was thereafter treated by Dr. Kalimuthu. (Id.). Lecaj underwent pin removal on four separate occasions: July 19, July 31, August 14, and August 23, 1990. (Id.). Lecaj began attending occupational therapy in July 1990 and was released to work in September 1990, "with specific orders not to use his left hand at all." (Id.).

On July 29, 1991, Physical Therapy Review Services, Inc. ("Physical Therapy") reviewed Lecaj's claim for hand therapy services regarding his crush injury. (R. 148). Physical Therapy noted that hand therapy was ordered on June 14, 1990 for construction of a hand splint, and "hand therapy seemed to continue on anywhere from a twice weekly basis to four times weekly through July, August, and September 1990." (Id.). Additionally, in November 1990 until June 4, 1991, "care three times weekly continued." (Id.). On February 4, 1992, Dr. Kalimuthu noted that Lecaj's disability "is permanent with no chance of any improvement" and that he will "never be able to return to his former occupation," but should be "rehabilitated for another occupation." (R. 181).

On July 7, 2003, Lecaj complained of numbness in his right hand and shoulder pain. (R. 155). Dr. Kalimuthu noted that Lecaj had "stiffness to the left hand," and the "inability to flex the little, ring, and middle fingers." (Id.). Dr. Kalimuthu also reported that Lecaj had "wasting of the left hand" and that Lecaj's right shoulder had "pain and paresthesia to the median nerve distribution area of the right hand." (Id.).

On November 29, 2004, Lecaj told Dr. Kalimuthu that his left hand hurt from his "hand all the way up to his shoulder." (R. 151). Lecaj saw Dr. Kalimuthu again on February 28, 2005. (R. 149). Dr. Kalimuthu noted that Lecaj was "a little dizzy at times [when] walking." (Id.).

One month later, on March 22, 2005, Dr. Myoung Kim ("Dr. Kim"), from the Advocate Christ Medical Center, performed an electrodiagnostic test on Lecaj for his left hand and upper extremity numbness. (R. 158). Dr. Kim reported that the test indicated normal functioning of the left median and ulnar nerves. (Id.). The findings were "mostly consistent with left C7 and C8 radiculopathy." (Id.).

On June 20, 2005, Lecaj reported to Dr. Kalimuthu that he could not "tolerate air-conditioning due to [his] hand." (R. 183). On October 13, 2005, Dr. Kalimuthu noted that Lecaj was experiencing dizziness. (R. 187). On February 20, 2006, Dr. Kalimuthu again noted occasional dizzy spells and also that Lecaj had "right hand numbness/weakness." (R. 191).

On April 10, 2006, Dr. Erika L. Liljedahl ("Dr. Liljedahl") performed a psychological evaluation for the Bureau of Disability Determination Services ("DDS").

(R. 174-77). Dr. Liljedahl noted that Lecaj's typical day included showering, taking walks, going to the store, and taking his son to school. (R. 175). Lecaj indicated he did "very little" chores "out of choice," but that he sometimes took the trash out. (Id.). Additionally, Lecaj stated that his cooking skills were "good" but his wife did the cooking. (Id.). Dr. Liljedahl opined that Lecaj was "fine" and that he had no psychological diagnosis. (R. 177). Dr. Liljedahl also reported that Lecaj made a "conscious choice to present himself poorly and wanted to convince the evaluator of his 'disability' and need for finances." (Id.). In her accompanying report, titled "Medical Source Statement of Ability To Do Work-Related Activities (Mental)," dated April 18, 2006, Dr. Liljedahl found no mental limitations to Lecaj's ability to do work-related activities on a sustained basis.

(R. 178-180).

On May 22, 2006, Dr. Kalimuthu indicated that Lecaj experienced occasional dizziness. (R. 199). On August 21, 2006 and November 13, 2006, Dr. Kalimuthu noted the "usual" pains. (R. 195, 197).

Dr. Liljedahl conducted a second psychological evaluation for the DDS on April 11, 2007. (R. 171-73). Lecaj stated that he does "nothing but watch TV sometimes" and that his chores included taking out the garbage "with one hand." (R. 171). Lecaj also stated that his cooking skills included "using the microwave oven, [and making] simple meals like oatmeal." (Id.). Lecaj reported that he is "fairly happy," but also reported "being sad because of his hand pain." (R. 172). Dr. Liljedahl again made no psychological diagnosis, and noted that Lecaj made "no reports of mood disturbance and [had] no significant problems in thinking or behavior." (R. 173). Dr. Liljedahl found no mental limitations to Lecaj's ability to do work-related activities. (R. 168-170).

On October 25, 2007, Dr. Jaroslaw Czarnkowski ("Dr. Czarnkowski"), a psychiatrist at The Center for Neurobehavioral Services, diagnosed Lecaj with "mood disorder due to chronic pain." (R. 201). Dr. Czarnkowski found that Lecaj had chronic depressive symptoms, including having "previously enjoyed activities [that] are no longer pleasurable; a loss of energy or motivation; excessive worrying; fatigue; a sense of guilt; irritability; sadness; feelings of worthlessness; helplessness, hopelessness." (Id.). Dr. Czarnkowski also reported that Lecaj had difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

(Id.). He noted that Lecaj would continue to take Zoloft, and he also recommended Lyrica and Klonopin. (Id.). On December 6, 2007, Dr. Czarnkowski noticed "decreased anxiety symptoms," "worsening of depressive symptoms," and an increase in "feelings of sadness." (R. 216).

Finally, on October 16, 2008, Dr. Ivkov, a neurologist at Neurologic Associates, Ltd., found that Lecaj's "upper extremities showed atrophy of the left biceps of mild to moderate degree left forearm of moderate degree and left hand of moderate degree with the deformities of the third and fourth finger in terms of pronounced ulnar deviation, bony abnormalities, skin atrophy, and limited extension and flexion of the hands." (R. 12). Additionally, Dr. Ivkov opined: "I understand that there has been question of whether this is RSD or not and I believe that it is in chronic form." (R. 13). Dr. Ivkov also noted a history of depression and found ...

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