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Tami Sue Piper v. Michael J. Astrue

August 5, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge


Friday, 05 August, 2011 11:53:19 AM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


This matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [#7] is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance [#11] is GRANTED.


The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as the claims asserted arise pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), et seq.


Plaintiff, Tami Sue Piper ("Piper"), was 51 years' old at the time of her administrative hearing. (R58). At the time of the hearing, she lived with her husband in McNabb, Illinois, although her youngest daughter lived with them between 2001 and 2006. (R34). While Piper did not complete high school, she did later obtain her GED. (R37). In the past, Piper has been employed as a janitor, a nursing home caregiver, and assembly worker. (R46-47).

On April 4, 2007, Piper applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") as the result of a "disabling condition" that occurred on November 1, 2001. (R105). Piper had been receiving worker's compensation, but these compensation payments ended on April 1, 2007. Id. Her application was denied both initially and on reconsideration. ( R61-71). On October 25, 2007, Piper requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (R72). A hearing was held before ALJ John Woods on September 30, 2009, at which Piper, who was represented by counsel, and vocational expert ("VE") Mr. Harding, appeared and gave testimony. (R47) On December 14, 2009, ALJ Woods issued his opinion denying Piper's request. (R11-21).

After determining that the last date Piper was insured, for the purposes of Social Security, was December 1, 2006, the ALJ limited Piper's testimony to include her potential disability from 2001 until 2006. Piper testified that she experienced pain and tingling in her non-dominant upper extremity and had limited use of the area. (R38-39). Piper also testified that she was functioning better since she ceased taking Methadone and Duragesic but that her pain and swelling remained. (R38).

Piper testified about her treatment with Dr. Goodman. (R42-44). Beginning on November 8, 2001, Piper began seeing Dr. Ira Goodman, a pain specialist, complaining of left arm, shoulder, and neck pain. (R392). Piper stated that the pain began sometime in July of 2001 while she was working on an assembly line. Id. Dr. Goodman observed weakness in her left arm but also noted that her sensation was normal. (R393). On November 14, 2001, an MRI of Piper's cervical spine showed mild degenerative disc and facet joint disease. (R.422). Dr. Goodman reviewed these results and determined that Piper should start a pain medication regimen, including a heightened dose of Duragesic and epidural steroid injections. (R385, 389).

In January of 2002, Piper was no longer working, and she still experienced pain in her left arm, neck, and shoulder. (R381). Dr. Goodman increased Piper's pain medication. Id. Piper reported that her pain was improved when she saw Dr. Goodman in March of 2002, and her employer requested that she return to work. (R364, 376). In February of 2003, Dr. Goodman recommended that Piper begin taking Methadone and Dilaudid for her pain. (R355). Dr. Goodman performed the radio frequency lesioning treatments that he recommended in 2002. In August of 2003, Piper reported improvement in her pain, which continued to improve in September of 2003. (R334). Piper stated, however, that her pain returned in October of 2003, and Dr. Goodman performed a fifth nerve block. (R304). Piper continued to report an oscillating degree of pain until July of 2004. (R504).

In September of 2004, Piper received an independent medical examination from Dr. Andrew Zelby, who found that Piper required no restrictions and could return to work. (R715). Dr. Zelby also opined that Piper should begin easing from her drug regimen and no longer required further treatment for her conditions. Id. Zelby also saw Piper again and continued to express the opinion that Piper could return to work and was addicted to pain medication. (R709). Piper returned to Dr. Goodman and reported that Methodone was less effective and that she was taking an increased amount of Dilaudid. (R499). Dr. Goodman continued to treat Piper through May of 2007. (R460).

Piper is able to take care of her personal needs by herself. (R40-41). She did not drive for six years after her work-place injury. (R35-37). Piper stated that she spent most of her time between her alleged onset date and her date last insured "melted into a chair." (R43). Piper also stated, however, that she was able to take a vacation to Cancun, Mexico, where she "did not hurt at all." (R44). During one ...

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