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Hermenegildo Ramos v. Michael J. Astrue

January 27, 2012

HERMENEGILDO RAMOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This is an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff Hermenegildo Ramos's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Ramos's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 13] is denied, and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 17] is granted.

BACKGROUND

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ramos originally applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 20, 2003, alleging disability since October 15, 2002. (R. 159-61.) The application was denied on November 20, 2003 and upon reconsideration on April 20, 2004. (R. 99-113.) Ramos filed a timely request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on September 8, 2005. (R. 53.) Ramos personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by a non-attorney. (Id.) Two medical experts also testified; a vocational expert appeared at the hearing but did not testify. (Id.) At the hearing, the psychological medical expert testified that the evidence in the record was not sufficient for him to form opinions regarding Ramos's mental impairments. (Id.) The ALJ therefore continued the hearing in order for Ramos to undergo a forensic, consultative, psychological examination and to allow Ramos's representative to submit any additional treatment records pertinent to his claim. (Id.) On May 23, 2006, the hearing was reconvened, and Ramos and his representative appeared; additional documents were submitted into evidence; Ramos and two medical experts testified and a vocational expert appeared; and the ALJ granted Ramos's representative's motion to amend the alleged disability onset date to April 13, 2005, when the claimant reached age fifty. (R. 53-54.)

On June 13, 2006, the ALJ denied Ramos's claim for benefits and found him not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 61.) Following Ramos's timely request for review of the decision, on February 22, 2007, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council accepted jurisdiction and remanded the case back to the ALJ for a new hearing for reasons discussed below. (R. 95-97.)

The ALJ held a supplemental hearing on October 25, 2007. (R. 23.) Ramos again personally appeared at the hearing and was represented by a non-attorney. (Id.) Two new medical experts testified, as did a vocational expert. (Id.) After the hearing, the ALJ held the record open to allow Ramos's representative to submit additional information and a brief documenting the inaccuracy of the ALJ's earlier credibility finding. (R. 24.) No information was submitted before Ramos discharged his non-attorney representative from further representation in the matter on April 18, 2008. (Id.)

On December 9, 2008, the ALJ again denied Ramos's claim for benefits. (R. 31.) After retaining legal counsel, Ramos filed a timely request for review of the decision, and an unfavorable decision upholding most of the ALJ's findings was issued by the Appeals Council on July 17, 2009. (R. 11-13.) This decision was the final decision of the Commissioner and therefore reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Background

Ramos was born on April 13, 1955, and at the time of the October 25, 2007 ALJ hearing, he was fifty-two years old. (R. 159.) He is six feet six inches tall and weighs 175 pounds. (R. 288.) He lives with his wife and two children. (R. 186, 271.) Ramos testified that he has a fourth-grade education*fn1 and can understand some English but cannot write. (R. 433.) Ramos was most recently employed as a mechanic's assistant at Nitrex, Inc., where he aided factory-machine mechanics by giving them needed tools or parts, from 1995 until he was laid off on October 15, 002. (R. 173-74, 511.) In 1994, he was a metal painter at Radiac Abrasives, Inc., and in the years prior to that, Ramos worked at several jobs, including as a busboy at That Steak Joynt, Inc. and at a company called Metal Creations Inc. (R. 170-73.) Ramos claims disability beginning April 13, 2005, because of pain due to a right leg injury suffered in a vehicle accident in 1998, diabetes, and depression. (R. 76, 103.)

B. Testimony and Medical Evidence

1. Ramos's Testimony

Ramos testified that he first came to the United States in the early 1970s and became a naturalized citizen in 1999. (R. 57, 482.) Ramos claimed that he has pain in his right ankle when it is cold, and it is difficult for him to sleep and walk. (R. 430.) He can walk approximately three or four blocks at a time and stand in one place for no more than fifteen minutes. (R. 431.) Due to his right shoulder pain, Ramos cannot lift heavy objects, and he cannot raise it for very long. (Id.) He experiences depression not only from his pain, but from other problems in his life.

(R. 432.) He understands some English but cannot write. (R. 433.) During his employment at Nitrex, he stood during the day and lifted as much as fifty to seventy pounds at a time. (R. 433, 512.)

2. Medical Evidence

a. Medical Evaluations

On October 22, 2003, Dr. Roopa Karri conducted a DDS consultative examination. (R. 270-73.) Dr. Karri noted Ramos's history of injury and his claims that he has pain all over his leg, which is worse in the winter. (R. 270.) He has difficulty walking, and his right ankle tends to swell up with activity. (Id.) Ramos also complained of right shoulder pain that radiated to his right hand. (Id.) Ramos stated that he uses a cane in the winter and can climb stairs with difficulty. (R. 271.) During Dr. Karri's examination, Ramos was able to get on and off the exam table and could walk fifty feet without support, but he limped on his right leg. (R. 272.) He could not walk on his heels and toes or squat. (Id.) His range of motion of his shoulders, elbows, wrists, and knees was normal, and the straight leg raise test was negative. (Id.) The range of motion of the right hip ...


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