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Ivette Vargas v. Michael J. Astrue

March 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Ronald A. Guzman


Plaintiff filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


From 1994 until October 23, 2008, plaintiff worked as a manager at various retail stores. (Administrative Record ["AR"] 125.)

On December 21, 2006, plaintiff had a defibrillator implanted in her chest to control a heart rhythm disorder know as Brugada Syndrome. (AR 170.) In May 2008, the lead on her defibrillator was changed, in June 2008, the lead was repositioned and, in July 2008, the entire defibrillator was repositioned. (AR 171-80.)

On August 27, 2008, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits. (AR 100.)

On October 18, 2008, plaintiff was evaluated by a consulting psychiatrist selected by defendant, who said plaintiff had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") and depression. (AR 240-44.)

On October 20, 2008, plaintiff was examined by a consulting internist selected by defendant, who noted that, in addition to Brugada Syndrome, she had a history of asthma, ulcer disease, low back pain due to ruptured discs, a broken wrist and decreased sensation in one foot due to an injury. (AR 249-52.)

On October 23, 2008, plaintiff was fired from her job as manager of a retail store. (AR 133.) The same day she saw a physician for breast pain, complained of anxiety and was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. (AR 302.)

Sometime thereafter, plaintiff submitted a function report to defendant in support of her application for benefits. It says she: (1) "can't handle stress," has "a lot of anxiety and panic" and cannot focus or concentrate; (2) cannot lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk or walk more than a block without needing a twenty-minute rest; and (3) can pay attention "[m]aybe 5 mins. if that." (AR 134-38.) However, it also says that she can drive a car, ride a bike, shop for "3-4 hrs. at a time," handle her bills and banking, care for her five-year-old son daily, work five days a week and "take[] part in outings, if [she is] motivated" to do so. (Id.) Moreover, it describes her daily activities as follows: "I wake up and get my son ready for school. I jump in the shower, get ready for work. I get off work[,] pick up my son and get us both ready for the next day. I may cook[,] sometimes watch movies, go over my son's homework and clean." (AR 133.)

On November 15, 2008, defendant's psychologist performed a psychiatric review of plaintiff's records and concluded that her mental conditions constituted a severe impairment that did not meet or equal a listed impairment and she "retain[ed] sufficient mental capacity to perform operations of a routine and simple nature on a sustained basis." (AR 272.)

In February 2009, one of plaintiff's doctors reported to defendant that her anxiety is stable on the anti-anxiety drug. (AR 294.)

On October 9, 2009, plaintiff had an initial consultation with a psychiatrist who said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") related to childhood abuse and situational depression/anxiety but did not have "a convincing history of ADHD." (AR 334.) The doctor noted that plaintiff had a history of cocaine dependence and was currently taking an anti-anxiety drug that had been prescribed for her mother. (AR 334.) She recommended that plaintiff seek psychiatric treatment and counseling and be monitored for bipolar disorder. (AR 334.)

On November 2, 2009, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Bassett held a hearing on plaintiff's application for benefits. During the hearing, plaintiff testified that she could not walk more than five blocks without taking a rest, experienced intermittent, sharp pains at the site of her defibrillator, was always tired, unmotivated and had difficulty concentrating. (AR 22-25.) A medical expert testified that "the only physical manifestation that [he] could actually attribute to the Brugada Syndrome . . . [is] the discomfort at the site of the [defibrillator]," such discomfort caused her doctor to restrict her lifting to ten pounds and her residual functional capacity was "light to medium." (AR 31-33.) A vocational expert testified that, even with the lifting restriction, there were unskilled "office type positions" like "a cashier or a general office clerk" that plaintiff could perform. (AR 36.)

On November 27, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's application for benefits. The ALJ found that plaintiff: (1) has a severe impairment of Brugada Syndrome and a nonsevere impairment of mood disorder; (2) does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments; and (3) "has the residual functional capacity "to perform the full range of sedentary work." (AR 47-48.) With respect to plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ said:

After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the above stated residual functional capacity assessment. (AR 50.)


The Court reviews the ALJ's decision de novo but gives deference to any factual findings. Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734 (7th Cir. 2006). The decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence, i.e., evidence "sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that [it] supports the decision." Id. at 735 (quotation omitted).

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erroneously concluded that her impairment of Brugada Syndrome does not meet a listing. Cardiac arrhythmias ...

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