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Christopher Jon Sarantinos v. Michael J. Astrue

June 24, 2011

CHRISTOPHER JON SARANTINOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDADE United States Senior District Judge

E-FILED

Monday, 27 June, 2011 10:42:25 AM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

ORDER & OPINION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (Docs. 16 & 17) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance and Memorandum in Support (Docs. 21 & 22). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance (Doc. 21) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural History

On February 12, 2006, Plaintiff filed for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits, (Doc. 17 at 1-2), alleging a disability onset date of February 21, 2006, his last date of employment, and alleging a disability consisting of various impairments: Spina bifida*fn1 since birth (Doc. 14 at 12) and related severe bladder control problems, (Doc. 14 at 30 and 33-34); a clubbed left foot (Doc. 14 at 19 and 288); lost sensation in his feet and inability to differentiate where he is touched on his feet, (Doc. 14 at 316); a left leg that is one and one-half inches shorter than the right leg, which causes his hips to be out-of-line, (Doc. 14 at 20 and 51); and a history of ulcers on his feet including a non-healing one on his left foot with chronic osteomyelitis and right cellulitis in his right foot and leg (Doc. 14 at 216 and 268).

Plaintiff's application was initially denied on July 03, 2006. (Doc. 14 at 61) and reconsideration was denied on September 12, 2006. (Doc. 14 at 68). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on November 14, 2006. (Doc. 14 at 78). Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and a friend for a hearing held on March 24, 2009, before ALJ Peter J. Caras. (Doc. 14 at 6). On May 18, 2009, ALJ Caras issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Doc. 14 at 54). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision that same day. (Doc. 14 at 56). On April 26, 2010, the Appeals Council denied the request for review leaving the decision of the ALJ as the final decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. 14 at 1).

Plaintiff filed the instant action in this Court on June 23, 2010. On June 25, 2010, the Court ordered the documents stricken due to an unredacted format and directed the claimant to re-file with redacted format. (Doc. 17 at 1). The Plaintiff re-filed on June 25, 2010, seeking review of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 5). On December 6, 2010, Plaintiff filed his Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 17), and on April 7, 2011, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Affirmance. (Doc. 22).

II. Relevant Work History

Plaintiff worked as a driver at a car wash from June of 1997 to March of 1999 for eight hours a day, six days a week. (Doc. 14 at 153-54). His job details included vacuuming cars, driving cars through the wash, and washing the windows. (Doc 14 at 154). Plaintiff's next job was a server at a fast food restaurant from February of 1999 to April of 1999 for six hours a day, three days a week. (Doc. 14 at 153 and 155). In this job, Plaintiff took orders, helped prepare food, and cleaned at night. (Doc. 14 at 155). Plaintiff next worked as an assistant carpet cleaner in a carpet cleaning service from June of 1999 to February of 2000 for ten hours a day, five days a week. (Doc. 14 at 153 and 156). Plaintiff drove to the job, moved furniture and cleaned, replaced furniture and cleaned traffic areas, and applied chemicals as needed. (Doc. 14 at 156). Plaintiff also worked in quality control in a cookie factory from March of 2000 to March of 2001 for eight hours a day, five days a week. (Doc. 14 at 153 and 157). Plaintiff was responsible for checking cookies for defects, specifically size and weight. (Doc 14. at 157).

Plaintiff had a job as a machinist in a machine shop from March of 2001 to March of 2002 for eight hours a day, five days a week. (Doc. 14 at 146). Plaintiff also worked as a general laborer in temporary service factories from April of 2002 to November of 2002 for nine hours a day, three days a week. (Doc. 14 at 146). Next, Plaintiff had a job as a material handler in a print shop from November of 2002 to December of 2003 working ten hours a day, five days a week. (Doc. 14 at 146). Plaintiff's final job was, again, a machinist in a machine shop from March of 2003 to February 2006 working ten hours a day, five days a week. (Doc. 14 at 146).*fn2

Plaintiff's job details included loading machines with wall parts, and then unloading the machine of the finished part, packing, and inspecting it. (Doc. 14 at 146). Plaintiff stated in this job he had to push, pull, and do lots of bending. (Doc. 14 at 146).

III. Relevant Medical History

After quitting work in February 2006, Plaintiff has been treated or examined by various doctors. Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Budzenski as Medical Consultant for the State of Illinois' Disability Determination on June 7, 2006. (Doc. 14 at 299-304). In June of 2006, Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Smith for a grade III ulceration on his left foot for which there was a debridement, a surgery to remove lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. (Doc. 14 at 347). In October of 2006, Plaintiff saw Dr. Smith for a second debridement of the grade III ulceration on his left foot. (Doc. 14 at 349). Since this debridement, Plaintiff has treated the condition on his own at home. (Doc. 14 at 349). In February 2007, Plaintiff had follow up treatment with Dr. Smith who noted that Plaintiff was "doing very well." (Doc. 14 at 351). In May of 2007, Plaintiff visited Dr. Smith for a third debridement and a K-wire, a steel pin used to hold bone fragments together, was installed in his left foot. (Doc. 14 at 352-355). The K-wire was removed in June of 2007 due to continuing problems after Plaintiff fell. (Doc. 14 at 356-361). Finally, Plaintiff's last doctor visit, prior to the ALJ's decision, was in January of 2008 for a fourth debridement of ulceration in his left foot. (Doc. 14 at 362-363). Since the ALJ's decision of May 18, 2009, Plaintiff has undergone further medical treatment: in June 2009 he had a spinal cord detethering surgery performed by Dr. Lin, to free up his spinal cord, because he was experiencing lower back and hip pain and having trouble with sitting and standing. (Doc. 14 at 369). Dr. Lin stated in a letter that Plaintiff, "is not able to perform a job on a regular continuing basis, eight hours a day, five days a week, or equivalent." (Doc. 14 at 364). This information was not before the ALJ, but it was before the Appeals Council as new medical evidence. (Doc. 14 at 209). *fn3

IV. Hearing Testimony

On March 24, 2009, ALJ Caras held a hearing on Plaintiff's application for benefits, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney, William Lasarelle, and accompanied by a friend, Melissa Short, as a witness. (Doc. 14 at 6). A Vocational Expert, Ms. Peters, also appeared to testify as to the type of work and jobs that would be available to Plaintiff. (Doc. 14 at 6, 8-10, and 35-40).

Plaintiff testified that he was born with spina bifida and that this is the direct cause of his bladder control problems. (Doc. 14 at 12). Plaintiff further testified that he has had four foot surgeries, three on his left for a recurring ulcer and one on his right for another ulcer. (Doc. 14 at 14). Plaintiff also testified that he had a clubbed left foot and that his left leg was one and half inches longer than his right leg. (Doc. 14 at 19-20). According to Plaintiff, because of the condition of his feet and legs, he must walk on the outside of his feet and has therefore developed bad calluses on his feet which cause him pain. (Doc. 14 at 17-18). Plaintiff also stated that he has tried wearing foot braces which only caused him more pain and that he has not tried any other assistive devices to help him with walking. (Doc. 14 at 27).

Concerning pain medication, Plaintiff testified that he only takes aspirin for the pain and has not requested pain medication from his doctor. (Doc. 14 at 18). Plaintiff does not want pain medication because he believes it to be a narcotic. (Doc. 14 at 18). He stated, "I just can't deal with pain medication." (Doc. 14 at 18).

Plaintiff also testified that he is uncomfortable when he sits because of pressure on his hips and lower back. (Doc. 14 at 20). He half lays to his right when sitting on a couch to be comfortable. (Doc. 14 at 21).*fn4 As for his bladder control problems, Plaintiff testified he tried to wear diapers, but that they caused bad chaffing so he discontinued using them. (Doc. 14 at 27). Plaintiff also noted that he is depressed because of how other people around him look or do not look at him. (Doc. 14 at 21).

With regard to activities, Plaintiff testified that he tries to help with the housework and to keep his kids in line. He stated, "I try to do with the stuff I can in like the living room and the kitchen." (Doc. 14 at 23). He keeps his children in line mostly by yelling and having them stand in time out. (Doc. 14 at 23). Plaintiff also testified that he had a previous sit down job, but that all the work with his hands made him uncomfortable because he was sitting ...


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