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Rhonda Zarzecki v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 1, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Rhonda Zarzecki applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on January 11, 2007 (Tr. 14). The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and again upon reconsideration.Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and the hearing was held on January 7, 2009. By decision dated March 27, 2009, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits because she was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act at any time beginning on or before December 31, 2005 (Tr. 20). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied on October 27, 2009 (Tr. 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481; Skarbeck v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 500, 503 (7th Cir. 2004). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Agency's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff also seeks reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's complaint is DENIED with prejudice.

II. Background

Plaintiff Rhonda Zarzecki was born on September 20, 1966 (Tr. 14). She is a high-school graduate and married mother of three children (Tr. 26, 33). At the time of the hearing before the ALJ, plaintiff was 42 years old (Tr. 25). When she applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on January 11, 2007, plaintiff asserted that her disability commenced on July 28, 2002 (Tr. 14). But at the hearing before the ALJ, plaintiff amended the date of her alleged onset of disability to August 22, 2005 (Tr. 60).

Plaintiff lists fibromyalgia, depression, neck and leg pain, bladder problems, irritable bowel syndrome, and frequent migraines as her disabilities (Tr. 154). She claims that her illnesses and injuries prevented her from returning to work on July 28, 2002. Plaintiff's most significant work history is from 1990--99 when she worked as a dental assistant (Tr. 155). Her other experience includes work as a retail clerk, nanny, and front-desk receptionist. Plaintiff was last insured on December 31, 2005 (Tr. 14).

A. Medical Records Prior to Plaintiff's Date Last Insured

On September 9, 1998, plaintiff saw Dr. Henry E. Mattis, a cardiologist, for chest pain and palpitations (Tr. 233). He diagnosed her with mitral valve prolapse; however, the condition remained untreated until 2002 when he prescribed Atenolol, a beta blocker.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Mattis again on July 22, 2002, for complaints of left-arm numbness and left-upper-chest discomfort, described as "heaviness" (Tr. 233). She complained that she had heart palpitations the previous Saturday and Sunday and was having shortness of breath and a noted cough. At that time plaintiff was supposed to have been taking 50mg of Atenolol in the morning and another 25mg in the evening, but she was only taking 25mg twice per day. Plaintiff's last stress test was performed in 1998, and it was "clinically and electrocardiographically negative for ischemia" (Tr. 233). An echocardiogram completed on February 1, 2002, was normal except for mitral valve prolapse. Dr. Mattis increased her Atenolol to 50mg in the morning and 25mg in the afternoon, and put her on a Holter monitor to track her heart rate (Tr. 233).

On July 27, 2002, plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for palpitations, chest pain, and arm numbness (Tr. 252). At that time she was still taking Atenolol for her mitral valve prolapse and Wellbutrin for depression. She reported that the Wellbutrin caused her to have heart palpitations. Dr. Prasad Kandula recommended that plaintiff have a cardiac catheterization, which she later refused. Dr. Panduranga Kini performed an MRI of the head and neck and did not find anything abnormal in the MRI of the brain. She was discharged two days later and told to stay on her current medications and to follow up with Drs. Mattis and Kini in two weeks (Tr. 252).

On August 14, 2002, plaintiff saw Dr. Kini for a follow-up visit (Tr. 262). She presented with stiffness in her leg and tightness in her hands. She complained of feeling fatigued and tired all the time, and stated that she had felt this way since a young age. Plaintiff complained that her fatigue had gotten worse since her father died a few years ago. Dr. Kini noted that plaintiff "feels as if she is having fibromyalgia" (Tr. 262). Dr. Kini contemplated switching plaintiff to Corguard because of her fatigue and tiredness, but Dr. Mattis later instructed plaintiff to remain on Atenolol because Corguard would make her more drowsy (Tr. 262, 239).

On October 22, 2004, plaintiff first saw Dr. Hageman for complaints of dysuria, frequent urination, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and mitral valve prolapse (Tr. 274). He noted a history of mitral valve prolapse, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other conditions.

On April 22, 2005, plaintiff saw Dr. Hageman again for treatment of stomach pain, poor appetite, and dark stools (Tr. 273). Dr. Hageman diagnosed her with gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia and prescribed Bentyl, Citricil, and Prevacid.

On August 22, 2005, plaintiff returned to Dr. Hageman for treatment of depression symptoms, including insomnia, moodiness, and lack of appetite (Tr. 272). Dr. Hageman noted she had been treated for depression before. He prescribed Zoloft. Plaintiff saw Dr. Hageman again on December 21 for symptoms related to sinusitis. The medical records note a diagnosis of sinusitis and depression. Sudafed and Lexapro were prescribed (Tr. 271).

B. Medical Records After the Date Last Insured

On February 3, 2006, plaintiff saw Dr. Edward Rose, a rheumatologist, with symptoms of joint pain, bladder problems, irritable bowel syndrome, mitral valve prolapse, and insomnia (Tr. 304). Dr. Rose noted that plaintiff's mother has fibromyalgia. His examination of plaintiff was normal, except for tenderness in all points tested. Dr. Rose commented, "Mrs. Zorzecki [sic] thinks she has fibromyalgia, and I suspect she is correct. . . . She seems quite cooperative and knowledgeable about this diagnosis and may be a good candidate for Provigil, which is said to help the fatigue part of this disease" (Tr.304).

On March 3, 2006, plaintiff had a follow-up with Dr. Mattis (Tr. 236). The medical records note that plaintiff had a history of mitral valve prolapse, atypical chest pain, and palpitations. Dr. Mattis further noted that plaintiff had a remarkable history of fibromyalgia and her muscle aches and pains were relieved by Ultracet. "She has done well over the past couple of years from a cardiac standpoint. She gets occasional palpitation and takes low dose beta blocker for a week or so and the [sic] is off of it" (Tr. 236). Dr. Mattis noted that he would continue her current medical regimen and see her for a follow-up in one year.

On May 23, 2006, plaintiff saw Dr. Murray D. McGrady for severe recurrent headaches, photophobia, nausea, and vomiting (Tr. 289). She complained that the headaches caused her to stay in bed all day, and the symptoms subsided within one or two days. Plaintiff had not had a headache in six weeks. She commented that she had a history of migraines. Dr. McGrady prescribed Imitrex for the headaches and told plaintiff he would refer her to a neurologist if the Imitrex did not ease her headaches.

On September 17, 2007, plaintiff saw Dr. Julius Clyne, a psychiatrist, for symptoms of depression (Tr. 374). The medical records indicate that plaintiff was taking Cymbalta, Ultracet, Lorzapam, and iron supplement. Dr. Clyne noted that plaintiff had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2002 and had a history of mitral valve prolapse. Then on September 28 plaintiff visited Dr. Clyne again (Tr. 372). He diagnosed her with major depression and prescribed Cymbalta and Ativan.

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Clyne on January 17, 2008 (Tr. 387). He noted that she had not been taking Ultracet and was taken off her antidepressant medication. The following day Dr. Clyne prepared a medical source statement of plaintiff's mental ability to do work-related activities (Tr. 378--80). He rated her "fair" or "poor to none" in all areas of mental occupational, performance, and personal-social adjustments. He attributed these findings to fibromyalgia and major depression. Plaintiff saw Dr. Clyne for follow-up appointments on May 11 and July 8, 2008 (Tr. 385--86). Dr. Clyne noted that she was taking her prescribed medications and was not suicidal. Dr. Clyne renewed his medical source statement on July 8 and again on December 23, 2008 (Tr. 382, 412).

C. The ALJ Hearing

Plaintiff appeared for a hearing before ALJ Edward Pitts on ...

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