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Mary C. Eastridge v. Michael J. Astrue

February 9, 2012

MARY C. EASTRIDGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Byron G. Cudmore, U.S. Magistrate Judge:

E-FILED Thursday, 09 February, 2012 04:48:27 PM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

OPINION

Plaintiff Mary C. Eastridge appeals from the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income ( "Disability Benefits") under the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1381a, and 1382c. This appeal is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Eastridge has filed a Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 17) (Motion for Summary Judgment), and Defendant Commissioner of Social Security has filed a Motion for Summary Affirmance (d/e 19) (Motion for Summary Affirmance).*fn1 The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to have this matter proceed before this Court. Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, and Order of Reference entered September 15, 2011 (d/e 15). For the reasons set forth below, the Decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

STATEMENT OF FACTS Eastridge was born on November 17, 1959. R. 25. Eastridge graduated from high school. Answer to Complaint (d/e 13),attached Certified Transcript of Record of Proceedings Before the Social Security Administration (R.) 26. She has no significant work history. She suffers from back and joint pain.*fn2 On June 2, 2006, Eastridge underwent an MRI of her lumbar spine. The test showed multilevel canal narrowing including degenerative facet ligamentum flavum hypertrophy associated with dural sac narrowing which appeared to be moderate at L3-L4 with milder dural sac stenosis at L4-L5, slight degenerative anterolisthesis of L4 and L5, and degenerative facet arthropathy. At T11-T12 and T12-L1, there was disc protrusions and mild dural sac narrowing. R. 490-91. On June 23, 2006, Eastridge saw Dr. Philip C. Wilson, M.D., with complaints of numbness in her legs and aching in her elbows. On examination, Dr. Wilson found that Eastridge's gait and stance were normal. Dr. Wilson stated that the MRI showed significant spinal stenosis at multiple levels. R. 471. He diagnosed her with hypertension and spinal stenosis of the back. R. 471.

Eastridge looked for work through the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). R. 43. On July 5, 2006, DRS issued a Closure Notification of a case file for Eastridge. The Closure Notification stated that as of August 9, 2006, Eastridge's case file would be closed because, "Your disabilities prevent you from working in a position that would meet your needs". R. 467.

On September 25, 2006, Dr. Frank Jimenez, M.D., reviewed the medical record and performed a Residual Functional Capacity Assessment. R. 567-74. Dr. Jimenez opined that Eastridge could lift, carry, push, and pull ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently, and could stand and/or walk at least two hours and sit about six hours in an eight-hour day. R. 568. Dr. Jimenez opined that Eastridge should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, wetness, humidity, vibration, and hazards. R. 569-71. Dr. Jimenez stated that he considered Dr. Wilson's finding of significant spinal stenosis at multiple levels. R. 574.

On October 13, 2006, Eastridge saw Julie Barry, a certified nurse practitioner associated with Dr. Wilson. R. 582. Eastridge reported diffuse pain in multiple areas, but most significantly in her lower back and legs. She denied any numbness. Barry found that Eastridge had limited range of motion in her neck; crepitation in her knees and elbows; limited back and forward movement in her back; satisfactory lateral movement in her back; full range of motions in her arms; and no joint redness, edema, or warmth. Barry diagnosed spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis. Barry provided Eastridge with a supply of Celebrex for pain. R. 582.

On November 21, 2006, Eastridge saw Barry. Eastridge reported that since she started taking Celebrex she had only one episode of pain, which occurred after physical activity. R. 580. Barry found limited range of motion in Eastridge's back, but full range of motion in her arms with no swelling in any joints. R. 580. Barry referred Eastridge to a neurosurgeon.

On November 28, 2006, Barry completed a form for a state agency. Barry noted diagnoses of osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis. She noted low back pain radiating to the hips, diffuse pain elsewhere and stiffness; numbness in the lower legs that increased with activity; minimal lumbar tenderness; upright and guarded posture; limited neck and back range of motion; no evidence of nerve-root compression; and normal ambulation and gait. R. 590. Barry opined that Eastridge must alternate between sitting and standing every ten to fifteen minutes. R. 591.

On March 22, 2007, Eastridge saw Dr. Sunil Chauhan, M.D., a neurologist, for treatment of back pain. R. 719. Dr. Chauhan found that Eastridge had pain with a straight leg raising test, normal strength and reflexes, intact sensation, no swelling, and normal gait. R. 720.

Dr. Chauhan reviewed the June 2006 MRI and noted some degenerative changes in the lower back, but otherwise no impingement of the spinal cord. R. 720. Dr. Chauhan recommended regular physical activity and prescribed physical therapy. R. 720.

Eastridge saw Dr. Chauhan again on March 12, 2008. Dr. Chauhan noted some pain in the left leg on straight leg raising, but no pain in the right. Dr. Chauhan also observed normal strength and gait, motor and sensory function. R. 767. Dr. Chauhan diagnosed chronic back pain, most likely lumbosacral radiculopathy. R. 767-68. Dr. Chauhan noted that Eastridge had extensive degenerative lower back disease but no evidence of spinal cord compressions. R. 767. Dr. Chauhan noted that Eastridge's condition was stable. R. 768.

THE INITIAL HEARING

The Administrative Law Judge conducted a hearing on March 27, 2008. Eastridge appeared with counsel. John F. McGowan, Ed.D., also appeared as a vocational expert. R. 20-67. Eastridge testified that she lived alone in an apartment in Quincy, Illinois. Eastridge did not drive because she lost her license in 1985 due to a felony DUI. R. 25. Eastridge graduated high school and had some training at a beauty school. R. 26. She also started college, but stopped shortly after beginning. R. 27.

She last worked as a personal assistant for a neighbor. She worked three hours a day. She stayed at the job for about three months. Before that, she worked for a telemarketing company for about three months.

R. 26-27. She also worked at a factory briefly right after finishing high school in 1978 and 1979. R. 28.

Eastridge was taking Celebrex, Ultram, and Skelaxin for pain. R. 28-29. The medication upset her stomach so she also took Prevacid. R. 29. Eastridge testified that she felt pain in her upper back like a numbness and a burning from her waist down in her back. R. 45. Her hips and legs ached down to the knee on the left side and down to the heel on the right.

R. 46. Eastridge testified that she felt this type of pain two to three times a week. R. 46.

Eastridge testified that she usually got up in the morning at about 5:30 a.m. and went to bed at 10:30 p.m. R. 30. During the day, she went across the street to visit with a neighbor two or three times a week. R. 32,

54. She also watched TV and listened to the radio. R. 36.

She went to the library to rent movies about once a week. R. 32.

She either walked to the library or took the bus. R. 31. Eastridge's residence was twelve blocks from the library. Eastridge testified that she had to stop a couple of times to rest during a walk to the library. R. 31.

Eastridge went to church regularly, about four times a week, for worship, ladies group meeting, and Bible study. R. 33. She took the bus to church. R. 34. She sang occasionally at church and helped with the clothing ministry. R. 34. The church meetings usually lasted about two hours. Eastridge testified that she became uncomfortable sitting for that length of time and sometimes had to get up and move around. R. 55.

Eastridge did her own grocery shopping. She testified that she leaned on the cart while shopping. She testified that shopping took about an hour from the time she left home until she returned. R. 53-54.

Eastridge did her own household chores including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. R. 32. She testified that she put off sweeping and mopping as long as possible because of the pain. R. 47, 53. She also testified that bending over caused pain. R. 47. She testified that she hurt her back the day before the hearing when she stood for about an hour and a half ironing. R. 36. She testified that she only washed a few clothes at a time. She also took breaks while doing dishes. She would wash a sink load of dishes and then take a break, and then wash another sink load. R. 54.

Eastridge testified that she could stand for an hour and a half before her back would start hurting, she could sit for half an hour, and walk six blocks. R. 36-37. Eastridge testified that a gallon of milk was the heaviest thing that she could lift. R. 35. She testified that her hands and fingers sometimes went numb. R. 41. She testified that she could take care of her personal hygiene and personal needs, such as dressing and bathing.

R. 40.

Eastridge testified that she looked for work through DRS, but they could not find her a job. R. 43. Eastridge counsel noted that DRS made a determination that her disabilities prevented her from working in a position that would meet her needs. R. 43.

Eastridge testified that she had pain in one ankle because she fractured it recently. R. 47. Her ankle still swelled some at the time of the hearing. The ankle also hurt when the weather changed. R. 47. Eastridge also had occasional fleeting ringing in her ears and dizziness. R. 48.

Eastridge testified that she had problems with stiffness in her neck.

R. 48. She stated that the stiffness went into her shoulders. She had difficulty turning her head to the left or right. R. 49. She testified that her neck and shoulders hurt two to three times a week. R. 49. She said that washing her hair caused pain because of how she had to lift her hands to her head. R. 49.

Eastridge testified that she had trouble with her elbows, wrists, and feet. She said that her left elbow swelled. She said that she had shooting, stabbing pain in her wrists. She had the pain in both wrists, but more on the left side. R. 50. Eastridge testified that she had numbness and burning in her feet. R. 52. She said that sometimes her feet would go numb at church if she stood for thirty minutes. R. 53. At least once, the numbness traveled up to her ankle after she stood for an hour. R. 52-53. She testified that it took two hours before she could feel her feet again. R. 53.

Eastridge testified that she had trouble sleeping. She woke up every hour and a half. She was usually sweating when she woke up. R. 49. She said that she had trouble sleeping three to four times a week. R. 50.

Vocational expert Dr. McGowan then testified. Dr. McGowan testified that Eastridge had no past relevant work. R. 57. The ALJ then asked Dr. McGowan:

[A]ssume that a hypothetical individual with Ms. Eastridge's age, education, and work experience would be limited to work that --. . . . . . . . . . frequently lift 10; occasionally lift 10. The person could stand less than six hours out of an eight-hour work day, at least two to four, I would say, with normal breaks -- four being, probably, the absolute max; sit at least six out of an eight-hour work day; pushing and pulling limited to no greater than 10 pounds; should avoid climbing, generally -- certainly ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and ...


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