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Luz Castro v. Michael J. Astrue

March 5, 2012


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


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 Luz Castro'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, Castro's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 10] is denied.



Castro originally applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on May 11, 2007, alleging disability since November 16, 2006.*fn1 (R. 72-76.) The application was denied on July 20, 2007 and upon reconsideration on September 18, 2007. (R. 27-28, 40-44, 48-51.) Castro filed a timely request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on February 17, 2009. (R. 9, 52.) Castro personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by an attorney. (R. 9.) No one else testified at the hearing.

On April 28, 2009, the ALJ denied Castro's claim for benefits and found her not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 13.) Following Castro's timely request for review of the decision, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied her request for review (R. 1-4), making the ALJ's decision 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).


A. Background

Castro was born on November 24, 1965, and at the time of the ALJ hearing was forty-three years old. (R. 17.) She is five feet five inches tall and weighs 165 pounds. (R. 19.) She lives with her husband and three children. (R. 17-18.) Castro was born in Mexico, where she went to school only through the sixth grade. (R. 18.) As of the hearing date, she had been in the United States for twenty-seven years. (Id.) Castro was most recently employed as a sander/finisher, where she sanded doors, basketball backboards, and boats. (R. 22.) Prior to her employment as a sander, Castro worked as a machine operator in a warehouse and a packer in a factory. (R. 100.) Castro claims disability due to hand pain caused by bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.

B. Testimony and Medical Evidence

1. Castro's Testimony

Castro used a Spanish interpreter at the ALJ hearing, but she did not expressly testify about her level of English fluency. (R. 16.) Castro testified that she has suffered pain in both hands for about ten years and also has trouble with her back, arms, and shoulders. (R. 20.) She claimed that every time she moves her hands, it feels like her arms are about to break. (R. 21.) She had a steroid injection in her shoulder in 2005, but did not have any shots since then. (Id.) She was not taking any medication at the time of the hearing, nor was she using heat or ice on her hands for pain relief. (R. 21, 23.) She uses splints on her hands about twice a week, when she has to clean the house. (R. 23.) When she does clean, she has to stop about every ten minutes because her hands get tired, and she does not have strength anymore. (R. 23-24.) It also bothers her hand to write. (R. 24.) Castro stated that she had no problems opening a car door or lifting a gallon of milk, but she could not carry a gallon of milk for a period of time because her hands would get tired. (R. 22-23.) Castro does carry groceries into the house when her children are not available to assist her. (R. 25.) She spends her time watching television and doing chores. (R. 24.) Castro last saw her physician six months before the hearing; he told her that he thought she "was okay," and said to come back if she was not feeling well. (R. 21-22.)

2. Medical Evidence

Castro has identified the following medical evidence as relevant to her claim.*fn2 On February 12, 2007, she saw Dr. Terry Light, whose progress notes indicate that her "symptoms have improved with night splinting," although elbow flexion provoked numbness in both hands. (R. 161.) An electromyography ("EMG") test reviewed by another physician showed that "[s]he is improving," and she was given a treatment plan to continue splinting, with a return visit in two months. (Id.) Castro saw Dr. Light again on April 9, 2007, when she reported to him that the numbness continued at night. It was relieved by splint wear on her elbow, but alternating the splint caused the other hand to become symptomatic. (Id.) His objective findings included positive elbow flexion ...

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