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Maria Dornseif v. Michael J. Astrue

April 26, 2012

MARIA DORNSEIF, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Maria Dornseif ("Dornseif") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final agency decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381a, 1382c.*fn1 Before the Court is Dornseif's amended motion for summary judgment asking the Court to reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for an award of benefits, or in the alternative, reverse and remand for further proceedings. The Commissioner also filed a motion for summary judgment seeking an order affirming the Commissioner's final decision. For the following reasons, the Court denies Dornseif's motion, grants the Commissioner's motion, and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 12, 2007, Dornseif applied for DIB and SSI alleging that she became disabled beginning on January 1, 2006 based on her seizure disorder. On September 12, 2007, Dornseif's application was initially denied and on July 1, 2008 Dornseif's application was denied upon reconsideration. On July 29, 2008, Dornseif filed a written request for a hearing and on October 21, 2009, Dornseif appeared and testified before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Karen Sayon in Orland Park, Illinois. Dornseif's mother, Maria Aleman, and Grace Gianforte, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the October 2009 hearing. On November 18, 2009, the ALJ concluded that Dornseif was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Thereafter, Dornseif requested a review of the ALJ's decision with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council and on May 18, 2011, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. Dornseif filed the present action for judicial review on June 25, 2011.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

I. Vocational Evidence

Dornseif was born on October 6, 1955 and was 54 years old on the date of the ALJ's November 18, 2009 decision. (R. 20, Admin. Record, at 22.) Dornseif has a high school education and had worked as a part-time presser at a dry cleaners for approximately ten years prior to the ALJ's decision -- working four hours a day without a break, six days a week. (Id. at 462-64, 478.) Dornseif is 5'6" tall and weighs 195 pounds. (Id. at 463.)

II. Medical Evidence

Medical evidence in the record includes information from Dornseif's physician, Dr. Dinesh K. Jain, M.D., who prescribed Dilantin for Dornseif's seizure disorder. Dr. Jain saw Dornseif on a regular basis from approximately 2001 until at least 2009. On May 4, 2009, for example, Dr. Jain noted that the Dilantin controlled Dornseif's seizure disorders and that she had had her last seizure approximately four years earlier. (Id. at 426.) Dr. Jain also saw Dornseif on September 19, 2008, at which time Dornseif explained that she had stopped drinking alcohol the year before. (Id. at 427.) In May or June of 2007, Dornseif reported to Dr. Jain that her last seizure was approximately two years earlier. (Id. at 428.) At that time, Dornseif also reported that she was still drinking alcohol on and off and Dr. Jain observed that she was "very non-compliant." (Id.) He also recommended that she should stop consuming alcohol. (Id.) On February 24, 2004, Dr. Jain noted that Dornseif was not compliant with taking her Dilantin and that her last seizure was in 1989. (Id. at 237.) In fact, as early as March 8, 2001, Dr. Jain noted that Dornseif was not compliant with taking her Dilantin. (Id. at 239.) Meanwhile, in July 2002, Dr. Jain recommended that Dornseif should not operate dangerous machinery or be exposed to hazardous materials due to her seizure disorder. (Id. at 238.)

Other medical evidence in the record includes discharge information from Dornseif's emergency room visit to St. James hospital in Olympia Fields, Illinois, in May 2007, at which time she was treated for Dilantin toxicity. (Id. at 248, 256-57.) Doctors at St. James also prescribed Xanax for her insomnia and anxiety disorder. (Id. at 258.) Dornseif's St. James medical records also indicate that she had a petit mal seizure sometime in 2004. (Id. at 259.) Dornseif returned to St. James on May 15, 2007 with flushed skin and complaints of her throat closing up. (Id. at 292-93.) After doctors diagnosed Dornseif's symptoms as an allergic reaction, they proscribed Benadryl. (Id. at 293.)

After Dornseif originally applied for disability benefits, Dr. Ronald Havens, PhD, on behalf of the state agency, performed a Psychiatric Review Technique of Dornseif on September 6, 2007. (Id. at 433.) Dr. Havens concluded that Dornseif had depression and alcohol abuse in remission, but that these impairments were not severe. (Id.) He also concluded that Dornseif had no functional limitations and that her impairments did not interfere with her social interactions, cognitive capacities, or activities of daily living. (Id. at 433, 445.)

On September 7, 2007, a state agency medical consultant, Dr. Marion Panepinto, M.D., provided his medical opinion as to Dornseif's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (Id. at 447.) Dr. Panepinto's report indicates that Dornseif has seizure disorder. (Id.) In his report, he found that Dornseif could occasionally lift or carry 50 pounds and frequently lift or carry 25 pounds. (Id. at 448.) Dr. Panepinto also found that Dornseif could stand or walk for a total of about 6 hours a day in an eight hour work day and sit with normal breaks for about 6 hours in an eight hour work day. (Id.) Moreover, Dr. Panepinto concluded that Dornseif's ability to push and/or pull was unlimited. (Id.)

On January 19, 2008, Dornseif went the emergency room at St. James Hospital because she had slipped on ice and dislocated her left knee. (Id. at 337-38.) The St. James' medical records reveal that Dornseif drank three or four glasses of wine that day before she slipped and fell. (Id. at 341.) That same day, doctors performed popliteal bypass surgery on her left leg. (Id. at 337-38.) On January 27, 2008, the hospital transferred Dornseif to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation. (Id. at 337.)

In February 2008, Dr. Matthew Johnson, Dornseif's attending physician during her hospitalization, reported in a letter addressed "to whom it may concern" that Dornseif had a severe debilitating illness that prevented her from standing for prolonged periods of time. (Id. at 425.) Also in February 2008, Dr. Savio Manatt, M.D., conducted a physical examination noting that Dornseif was overweight and had anxiety problems. (Id. at 404.)

At a consultative examination on June 7, 2008 -- approximately five months after Dornseif's surgery -- Dr. Albert Osei, M.D., examined Dornseif at the request of the state agency. (Id. at 406-09). Dr. Osei reported that Dornseif has a history of seizure disorder with recurrent episodes, a history of left knee joint dislocation, elevated blood pressure, and history of left popliteal bypass with normal peripheral pulses. (Id. at 408.) In his report, Dr. Osei observed that Dornseif "was able to get on and off the exam table with no difficulty, [and] could walk greater than 50 feet without support." (Id. at 407.) Also, Dr. Osei reported that Dornseif herself stated that she could walk about 100 feet. (Id. at 406.) He further observed that her "gait was non-antalgic without the use of assistive devices." (Id.) In addition, he reported that Dornseif "was unable to perform toe/tandem walk, but was able to do tandem walk, [but] squatting was incomplete and she could stand on either leg but [was] unable to hop." (Id.) Dr. Osei observed that Dornseif wore a brace on her left leg and that her left hip had a limited range of motion, although her left knee joint had a full range of motion. (Id.) Moreover, Dr. Osei noted that Dornseif's range of motion for her cervical spine, lumbar spine, and right limb joints were all normal. (Id. at 407.)

On June 26, 2008, Dr. Charles Wabner, M.D., performed a RFC assessment on behalf of the state agency. (Id. at 413.) Dr. Wabner's report indicates that Dornseif has seizure disorder, vascular insufficiency, and hypertension. (Id.) He found that Dornseif could occasionally lift or carry 20 pounds and frequently lift or carry 10 pounds. (Id. at 414.) Also, Dr. Wabner found that Dornseif could stand or walk for a total of about 6 hours a day in an eight hour work day and sit with normal breaks for about 6 hours in an eight hour work day. (Id.) Dr. Wabner further concluded that Dornseif's ability to push and/or pull was unlimited, but that her history of popliteal bypass and knee pain limited her to occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (Id. at 414-15.)

III. Hearing Testimony

A. Maria Dornseif's Testimony

Dornseif testified at the October 21, 2009 hearing that she lived with her mother at her mother's house, that no minor children lived at the house, and that she does not have a driver's license because of her seizures. (Id. at 462.) Further, Dornseif testified that prior to hurting her knee in 2008, she worked part-time as a presser at a dry cleaners because of her seizure disorder and that she had never worked full-time. (Id. at 464.) She also testified that when she works on the automatic presser, she is always on her feet. (Id. at 464-65, 486.) Dornseif then explained that since her knee surgery she feels like she has ants crawling all over her leg and that she takes Tylenol and aspirin for pain. (Id. at 465-66.)

Next, Dornseif discussed her seizure disorder explaining that it comes on when she is under a lot of pressure. (Id.) She stated that sometimes she'll have seizures three times a week and that sometimes she has them once every two weeks. (Id.) She recalled that she had a seizure a few months prior to the October 2009 hearing. (Id.) Dornseif explained that during her seizures she becomes very rigid and her head pulls back. (Id. at 467.) Also, she testified that during or after a seizure, she will often get a shot of Benadryl, after which she falls asleep. (Id.) She explained that if her seizures are really bad, her mother will call the paramedics and that within the last year the paramedics had come to her house at least five times. (Id.)

Further, Dornseif testified that she is compliant with her medication, Dilantin, and that she does not drink, although she admitted to having a drink on New Year's Eve. (Id. at 467-68.) The ALJ, however, told Dornseif that she reviewed Dornseif's medical records and that Dornseif had admitted to occasional alcohol in December 2007, that her doctor reported that she was drinking on and off and not compliant with her medication in May 2007, and that medical records revealed that Dornseif had three or four glasses of wine the day she fell and hurt her knee in January 2008. (Id. at 468.) In response, Dornseif stated: "I can't drink and if I did drink I don't remember." (Id.) The ALJ also noted that Dornseif had just testified at the hearing that she had ...


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