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Monzita R. Griffin v. Michael J. Astrue

July 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox


Plaintiff Monzita R. Griffin ("Griffin" or "plaintiff") requests judicial review of the final decision denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act.*fn1 Plaintiff has filed motion for summary judgment seeking a judgment reversing or remanding the final decision. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part plaintiff's motion [dkt. 16].


On August 15, 2007, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSIB based on an alleged disability beginning on September 13, 2006.*fn2 Plaintiff alleged that the pain caused by a diagnosis of fibromyalgia prohibited her from maintaining the types of employment she had previously held.*fn3 On November 30, 2007, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her claim.*fn4 On January 8, 2008, plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration.*fn5 On February 8, 2008, the SSA denied the request for reconsideration.*fn6 On March 19, 2008, plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").*fn7 On February 12, 2009, after the SSA granted the request, ALJ Joel G. Fina presided over the hearing.*fn8 On March 2, 2009 ALJ Fina issued a written decision finding no disability because plaintiff could still perform the duties of her past employment as a cashier.*fn9 On April 13, 2009, consequently, plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision.*fn10 On December 9, 2010 and again on May 27, 2011, the SSA denied the request.*fn11 Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.*fn12 On September 26, 2011, plaintiff filed this action.


This section supplies a brief overview of plaintiff's background, along with the chain of events leading up to her application for disability. All of the facts can be found in the medical record, which the ALJ reviewed at the hearing and considered when issuing his written decision.

A. General History

Plaintiff was born on April 20, 1959, making her 49 at the time of her hearing before the ALJ.*fn13 At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was married with two minor stepdaughters and a minor step-granddaughter.*fn14 She graduated high school and had last worked in August 2006.*fn15 From 1988 until 2006, plaintiff held seven different positions of employment as a cashier and stocker in shoe stores, a security officer, a dispatcher, and a school bus driver.*fn16

From 1990 until 2006, Bruce C. Malm, M.D. served as plaintiff's physician.*fn17 But this long treatment relationship is only relevant to this case with respect to her high blood pressure condition.*fn18 Dr. Malm's prescribed Fosinopril and Norvasc to treat the high blood pressure.*fn19

Beginning in 2002, plaintiff began seeing Majid Serushan, M.D. with complaints of arthritis.*fn20 In 2003, plaintiff was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.*fn21 From 2005 to 2007, Dr. Serushan noted plaintiff's repeated complaints of pain and tenderness.*fn22 On April 25, 2007, Dr. Serushan, then her sole treating physician, noted that Griffin had many tender points in her neck and shoulder regions.*fn23 Dr. Serushan prescribed a variety of medications for Griffin's fibromyalgia, including Alprazolam, Hydrocodone with APAP, and Requit.*fn24

Plaintiff also asserts that in high school, or approximately thirty-five years ago, she was diagnosed with a seizure disorder.*fn25 She alleges that she had seizures as often as once a week characterized by drooling and tongue biting, among other symptoms.*fn26 In September 2006, Amarjit

S. Bhasin, M.D., prescribed medication to treat plaintiff's seizure disorder.*fn27

Additionally, plaintiff asserts that she has suffered from depression since high school.*fn28 She reports that she contemplated suicide several times between the ages of nineteen and twenty, and last attempted to take her own life in 1997.*fn29 From October 2006 to March 2007, plaintiff underwent psychological counseling for her depression.*fn30

Lastly, plaintiff has sought medical treatment for several issues not pertinent to this case. For instance, in 2007, plaintiff visited Ingalls Memorial Hospital with complaints of a stomach problem.*fn31 Similarly, in 2007 plaintiff went to St. Mark's Professional Medical Center to seek additional treatment for arthritis.*fn32 Also in 2007, plaintiff visited Oak Forest Hospital of Cook County because of sinus problems.*fn33

B. Application

As part of plaintiff's application for DIB, she provided a variety of documents pertaining to her medical history and daily activities. On her undated Disability Report, plaintiff alleged that she had been unable to work because of her medical conditions since September 13, 2006.*fn34 She indicated that she suffered from constant pain and that she had often had seizures. These limitations, she claimed, limited her ability to work.*fn35

In her Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire for Physical Impairments, plaintiff alleged that her fibromyalgia caused swelling, chronic fatigue, cramping, and burning sensations.*fn36 In this questionnaire, Griffin also asserted that the pain was focused in her back, right hand, arm, shoulder, and neck.*fn37 According to plaintiff, the pain limited her ability to cook, shop, and do other household chores, and also to bend or stoop.*fn38 In particular, plaintiff claimed hand pain limited her ability to manipulate objects such as silverware; however, she did teach herself to use an electric can opener with her non-dominant left hand.*fn39 When plaintiff filled out the field office's Disability Report, a field officer documented that plaintiff had difficulty signing her name because of pain in her right wrist.*fn40 Nonetheless, plaintiff still watched and cared for her young granddaughter on a somewhat regular basis.*fn41
In another portion of the DIB application, a signed statement made in a daily activities telephone report, plaintiff's mother, Montez Davis, explained that her daughter drove herself to get around.*fn42 Davis also stated that plaintiff kept her home clean, but needed help from her stepdaughters for some activities such as cooking.*fn43 Davis described plaintiff's personal appearance as very clean and neat.*fn44

C. Medical History for Purposes of Disability Application

Though Griffin had extensive medical history prior to filing for DIB, both her treating doctor and state agency doctors reviewed her case and completed reports for purposes of her application. Her treating physician, Dr. Serushan, provided a report and prior medical notes assessing plaintiff's alleged disabilities.*fn45 One state agency doctor examined plaintiff while another reviewed her medical file.*fn46 A state agency psychologist also examined plaintiff while another state specialist reviewed her file to assess her allegations of psychological disability.*fn47 Several months later, a fifth state agency doctor reviewed plaintiff's file and the reports previously submitted by the four other state agency doctors.*fn48

In his Fibromyalgia Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire dated June 18, 2008, treating physician Dr. Serushan cited three Magnetic Resonance Imaging ("MRI") tests as laboratory tests that demonstrated his patient's medical impairments.*fn49 Dr. Serushan did not, however, explain the results of those tests or how they were relevant.*fn50 At the end of his report, Dr. Serushan concluded that plaintiff was incapable of even low-stress jobs because she "cannot perform duties."*fn51

He recommended that she sit for no more than twenty minutes at a time and stand for no more than fifteen.*fn52 Similarly, he concluded that plaintiff should both sit and stand or walk for less than two hours out of every eight-hour workday.*fn53 Lastly, Dr. Serushan reported that plaintiff could never lift any amount of weight in a competitive work situation, could stoop for only 5% of a workday and crouch for 0%, and could not repetitively reach, handle, or finger objects without significant limitations.*fn54

On October 10, 2007, Liana D. Palacci, D.O., conducted an Internal Medicine Consultative Examination on plaintiff on behalf of the SSA.*fn55 Dr. Palacci reported that plaintiff denied any tender trigger points relating to her fibromyalgia.*fn56 Dr. Palacci also reported that plaintiff's range of motion was normal in her cervical spine, lumbar spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, knees, ankles, and hips.*fn57 Plaintiff's bilateral grip strength was also a five on a five-point scale.*fn58 Her fine and gross motion was intact, and she was able to bear weight, squat, and walk without an assistive device.*fn59

In conclusion Dr. Palacci asserted that plaintiff's fibromyalgia was well controlled and that she was "able to perform all ...

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