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Donna M. Goffron v. Michael J. Astrue

May 2, 2012

DONNA M. GOFFRON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Claimant Donna M. Goffron ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal or remand of the decision by Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI) by finding Claimant not disabled. Claimant raises the following issues in support of her motion: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") improperly relied on the Commissioner's Grid to deny disability despite the fact that Claimant's impairments result in significant non-exertional limitations; and (2) whether the ALJ's credibility determination was erroneous. For the following reasons, the Court denies Claimant's complaint for judicial review seeing to reverse or remand the decision of the Commissioner and grants the Commissioner's motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

A. Procedural History

Claimant filed for DIB and SSI on August 30, 2007. R. 108-17.*fn1 Claimant alleged a disability onset date of April 6, 2007. R. 108, 114. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her applications on November 19, 2007. R. 59-63. Claimant filed a request for reconsideration on January 7, 2008, which was denied by the SSA on February 21, 2008.

R. 64-65, 66-73. Shortly thereafter, Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 74-75. On August 5, 2009, Administrative Law Judge James A. Horn ("ALJ") presided over a hearing at which Claimant appeared with her attorney, Jonathan Pearson. R. 26. Claimant testified at the hearing. R. 31-44. Claimant's husband, Lloyd Lehman, also testified. R. 44-51. Significantly, no testimony was taken from a Vocational Expert.

On November 3, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding Claimant not disabled from April 6, 2007 through the date of his decision. R. 12-25. Specifically, the ALJ found that "Claimant retains the ability to perform the full range of all exertional activities along with the ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions, respond appropriately to supervision, and co-workers, and respond appropriately to work pressures in a work setting" but must avoid working around moving machinery or at unprotected heights. R. 19.

Claimant then filed for review of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council on December 7, 2009. R. 10-11. On January 24, 2011, the Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-3. Claimant subsequently filed this action for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Oral argument before this Court was held on April 10, 2012.

B. Hearing Testimony -- August 5, 2009

1. Donna M. Goffron -- Claimant

At the time of the hearing, Claimant was fifty-four years old. R. 32-33. She lives with her husband, Lloyd Lehman. R. 33. Claimant testified that she graduated from college with a 4.0 grade point average in accounting. Id. Claimant was employed as an executive assistant at BP Castrol for twenty-five years, which ended on September 13, 2002, when her position was eliminated. R. 36. After her position was eliminated at BP Castrol, Claimant worked at Elford Wolfe as an executive assistant from April 21, 2006, through the end of November 2006. R. 35-36. Claimant's most recent permanent employment was for six weeks at Toys "R" Us which ended in October 2007 when she quit due to stress. R. 33. She attempted to work at a bakery after quitting the job at Toys "R" Us, but only held that job for one day because her arthritis prevented her from accomplishing assigned tasks. R. 33-34. Additionally, Claimant held various positions via a temporary work agency through April 2007 and worked as a telemarketer in 2008. R. 34-35, 177. At the time of the hearing, the only identified source of income for Claimant's household was her husband's Social Security benefits. R. 32.

Claimant experienced her first grand mal seizure in October 2002. R. 37. Claimant testified that the seizure condition went untreated for a couple of years, other than emergency room visits, until she began to see doctors at Stroger Hospital. Id. The seizures were then under control with medication. Id. Claimant testified that she had a minor seizure in the summer of 2008. Id. At her doctor's recommendation, Claimant altered her medication regiment. Id. Claimant testified that between the summer of 2008 and the time of the hearing (summer 2009) she had one small seizure but did not receive any treatment. R. 38. Claimant's last grand mal seizure was in May of 2007. Id. Claimant described the seizures that she has suffered since May of 2007 as "very minor." R. 37.

When asked by the ALJ why she felt she could not work, Claimant stated that she is not motivated and is a "shell of the person" she once was. R. 40. Additionally, Claimant said she would be unable to perform work because she cannot handle being under stress. R. 41. Her medication causes fatigue such that she has to nap; her life revolves around her medication pattern. Id. Claimant testified that she is unable to drive as a result of the seizure condition, but at the time of the hearing, she held a valid driver's license with only eye restrictions. R. 38-40.

Claimant's medications at the time of the hearing included Geodon, for her bipolar disorder, and Depakote, for both her bipolar disorder and the seizures. R. 41. She also stated that she takes Ibuprofen for her arthritis as needed, and sometimes takes Trazodone for sleeping. R. 41.

Claimant stated that the last time she drank alcohol was five years ago. R. 42. Claimant testified that it is difficult for her to take a shower on a daily basis. Id. Other than visiting her ninety-one year old mother once or twice per week, her only social activity is spending time with a girlfriend a couple of times each month. Id. Claimant said that she used to have many friends, but most have "gone to the wayside." Id. Claimant stated that she would not be able to get herself up every morning and get into a routine if she had to go to work each day. R. 43. There are zero days out of a week in which she is symptom free. Id. Claimant testified that she is at an "even keel" and her medication prevents her from getting excited over things. Id. She is less ambitious than she used to be, which she also attributes to her bipolar medication. R. 40-41.

2. Lloyd Lehman - Claimant's Husband

Lloyd Lehman ("Mr. Lehman"), Claimant's husband, was questioned by Claimant's attorney and the ALJ. R. 44-49. Mr. Lehman stated that he did not believe Claimant could be self-sufficient in any capacity. R. 44. He testified that it would not be safe for her to travel any distance on her own because she does not remember anything when she has a seizure. R. 44-45. He further testified that without his assistance, Claimant would not be likely to take her medications on her own. R. 47. Mr. Lehman also explained that Claimant does not have any "good days" but, rather, her medicine keeps her in the "middle" without any exciting moments. Id. He does not believe her memory is good enough to remember one or two simple instructions. Id. He stated that Claimant would not be able to perform tasks assigned to her in a job setting. R. 49.

Mr. Lehman stated that he noticed that his wife's condition improved when she stopped using alcohol five years ago, particularly regarding basic living responsibilities. R. 49-50.

C. Medical Evidence

1. Pre-Onset Date

a. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital -- October 2002 through December 2002

Claimant was taken to the Gottlieb Memorial Hospital emergency room on October 6, 2002 for evaluation of a new onset seizure disorder and was discharged on October 9, 2002. R. 321. Dr. Haresh B. Sawlani, M.D. ("Dr. Sawlani") evaluated Claimant. Id. Upon discharge, Claimant was diagnosed with: seizure disorder, alcohol dependence, alcoholic hepatitis, alcohol withdrawal seizures, duodenal ulcer, hiatal hernia, iron deficiency anemia, and depression. Id. Claimant was prescribed Depakote. R. 322.

During that hospital stay, Claimant had a consultation with Anshuman Chawla, M.D. ("Dr. Chawla") on October 7, 2002 for anemia and alcohol abuse. R. 330. Dr. Chawla's impressions of the consultation resulted in the following conclusions: macrocytic anemia, history of alcohol abuse, new onset seizure disorder, black stool, and elevated parate aminotransferase (AST). R. 330.

Claimant also had a consultation with Erik Sinka, D.O. ("Dr. Sinka") on October 7, 2002 regarding her new onset seizure disorder. R. 334. Dr. Sinka concluded that Claimant had several episodes of witnessed generalized convulsions on October 6, 2002. R. 335. Dr. Sinka also indicated that he was unsure as to the relation of alcohol use or cessation with regard to the seizures but believed alcohol consumption may have played a part. R. 335.

In a follow-up consultation with Claimant on December 10, 2002, Alan Daar, M.D. ("Dr. Daar") performed a CT scan which indicated no significant changes from the CT scan performed on October 6, 2002. R. 356.

Claimant was re-admitted to Gottlieb Memorial Hospital on December 18, 2002. R. 323. Claimant received treatment at Oak Park Hospital emergency room and was then transferred to Gottlieb at Dr. Sawlani's request. R. 323. On December 18, 2002, Dr. Sawlani noted noncompliance with Claimant's medication as Claimant reported missing doses of her medications or taking her medications secondary to alcohol abuse. R. 324. On December 19, 2002, Madhu Soni, M.D. ("Dr. Soni") evaluated Claimant based on confusion and seizures.

R. 325. Dr. Sawlani noted that Claimant's seizures appeared to be due to alcohol withdrawal and recommended that Claimant avoid working at tall heights or around heavy machinery.

R. 327.

The following day an MRI was performed at Dr. Soni's request. R. 354. Atrophy and

some ventricular dilation were present, which was inconsistent with Claimant's stated age, but these conditions were stable when compared to prior exams. Id. There were no other abnormal findings. Id.

b. Rush Oak Park Hospital -- December 2002 through August 2005

Claimant presented to the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency room on December 14, 2002, with confusion and was discharged a few hours later following treatment. R. 276. Claimant again presented to the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency room on December 18, 2002 with a seizure. R. 281.

Claimant was admitted to the Rush Oak Park Hospital after presenting at the emergency room on January 2, 2003, because she was confused and unresponsive. R. 264. Dr. John V. Courtney's conclusion was atrophy in the frontal lobes following a CT. R. 273.

Claimant was again taken to the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency room on January 11, 2003 due to a seizure. R. 258. Claimant was treated at the hospital and released ...


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