The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole
The Plaintiff, Michael Bradley, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("Agency"), who denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II, Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act ("Act") and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI, Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. Mr. Bradley asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
Mr. Bradley filed concurrent applications for DIB and SSI on March 14, 2007, alleging he had been disabled since January 15, 2007, due to major depression, suicidal ideations, stress-related anxiety, hypertension, and migraine headaches. (Administrative Record ("R.") 180). Both of his claims were initially denied on May 21, 2007, and upon reconsideration on October 9, 2007. (R.14). Mr. Bradley filed a written request for hearing on November 20, 2007 (20 CFR 404.929 et seq. and 416.1429 et seq.). The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) convened a hearing*fn1 , at which Mr. Bradley, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. 36-64). In addition, Dr. Daniel Schiff testified as medical expert (R. 64-70) and Ms. Fawcett testified as vocational expert (R. 70-85)*fn2 .
On December 17, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision, denying Mr. Bradley's application for DIB and SSI. (R. 14-24). The ALJ found that Mr. Bradley was not disabled because he possesses a residual functional capacity consistent with unskilled, routine, and simple tasks, of which there exist a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the plaintiff can perform given his age, education, and work experience. (R. 17-24). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Mr. Bradley's request for review on October 27, 2010. (R. 1-3). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981.
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of his claims. The federal district court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). On April 21, 2011, both parties consented in writing to proceed before a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c).
The Vocational Evidence Mr. Bradley was born on January 21, 1960, making him forty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 36). He is single, never been married, and has one child (R. 255). He is approximately 5'4" and weighs 138-pounds. (R.179). The plaintiff has an eleventh-grade education and his past relevant work includes: foundry machine operator (June 1995 to Aug. 1998), UPS mail handler and forklift driver (Aug. 1998 to Aug. 1999), museum janitor (Sept. 1999 to May 2001), laundry presser and production line worker (Aug. 2001 to Feb. 2005), cook (Aug. 2005 to Jan 2006), meat packer (Feb. 2005 to Jan. 2007). (R. 186-194). During the longest period of Mr. Bradley's employment -- as a presser at a laundry cleaning service for approximately three and a half years -- the workday roughly included walking for eight hours, standing for eight hours, kneeling or couching for five hours, operating machinery with no technical skill or knowledge required, and frequently lifting 25-pounds with the heaviest load at 40-pounds according to the Disability Report (R. 181) or 20-pounds according to the Social Security Work History Report. (R.189). At the time of the hearing, Mr. Bradley was not employed.
The Medical Evidence Mr. Bradley was admitted to Madden Health Center in February 2007 after expressing suicidal intentions at the Provident Hospital Emergency Room. (R. 252-256). Mr. Bradley was diagnosed with depressive disorder -- not otherwise specified, substance-induced mood disorder, and cocaine abuse. (R. 255). Upon discharge, Mr. Bradley was psychiatrically and medically stable: no suicidal ideation, improvement in judgment, appropriate behavior, and no danger to himself or others. (R. 256). He continued to receive mental health treatment. He first visited Chatham Avalon Community Mental Health Center (CMHC) in March 2007, complaining of suicidal ideation, depression, and a mental condition. (R. 209). Dr. Douglas prescribed counseling and the following medication: Propranolol, Enalapril, and Hydrochlorothazide for high blood pressure, Lexapro for depression, and ibuprofen for headache. Mr. Bradley reported side effects of dizziness and drowsiness (R. 211).
On May 4, 2007, consultative examiners conducted psychiatric and physical evaluations of Mr. Bradley. In the psychiatric evaluation, Dr. Henry Fine reported that Mr. Bradley had a long history of depression, loneliness, depressed mood, psychomotor retardation, slowed speech, some suicidal thoughts, auditory hallucinations, and poor sleep. (R. 295-296). He also had a history of long-term alcohol and Cocaine abuse, both of which were in remission for the past month. (R. 296). In the physical examination, Dr. Sandra Hare reported that the plaintiff had clear lungs, regular cardiac rhythm, high blood pressure at 131/101, full range of motion of all joints, no difficulty getting on and off the examination table, normal gait, full bilateral finger and hand grasp/grip/extension, sustained audible and understandable speech, and intact memory. (R. 302-303).
Throughout Mr. Bradley's 2007 to 2009 treatment at CMHC, his overall condition improved. (R. 389). The treatment record reflects that his mood oscillated, whereas his mental status -- attention, thought-process, and thought-content -- were within normal limits. (R. 389-410). In his most recent treatment report on August 19, 2009, Mr. Bradley had no new complaints, had been compliant with his medications, did not experience any side effects from his medications, and did not report recurrence of mood or psychotic symptoms. (R. 389).
Mr. Bradley completed an Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire ("Questionnaire") in April 2007. He reported that he lives in an apartment with his mother, that he does not cook his own meals, but that he does his own ironing, laundry, and personal care, and that he helps with grocery shopping twice a month. (R. 195-196). He said he takes several medications and needs the help of his mother and girlfriend to remind him to take his medicine and keep appointments.
(R. 196). Mr. Bradley reported that he has difficulty remembering tasks and finishing things he starts, and that he gets lost and loses things. (R. 196). He has difficulty sleeping because of nightmares. (R. 197). He also alleged that he hears voices and sees people who are not around, which interferes with his daily activities. (R. 196). He is able to leave home and travel by himself on foot or on the bus. (R. 197). He enjoys people and being with others, but he sometimes is afraid of people, tends to get angry, or fights with others. (R. 197).
He reported that he enjoys fixing things, fishing, playing softball and cards, watching television, listening to the radio, and talking on the phone. (R. 196-197). He attends church and a mental health program. (R. 197). As for his physical impairments, Mr. Bradley indicated that his right arm goes numb when opening twist lids on jars or when reaching overhead. (R. 200). He also alleged that he experiences shortness of breath most of the time when standing or moving about and sometimes has to hold onto the wall or furniture for balance. (R. 200). Mr. Bradley reported that he can climb thirty or more stairs and can sit for one hour without having to stand up (R. 200).
In August 2007, Mr. Bradley completed another Questionnaire. In contrast to the one he filled out in April 2007, he said no longer experienced numbness when opening twist lids or reaching overhead, but he had problems tying his shoes and could not carry anything over ten pounds. (R. 223). He sometimes needs assistance standing and balancing, but is able to sit for two hours without needing to stand and can sometimes perform household chores. (R. 224). He reported that he no longer performs household chores, but is able to take care of his personal care. (R. 227). He also no longer enjoys being around people, but does not tend to get angry or fight with people anymore. (R. 228).
Mr. Bradley's girlfriend, Karen Randle -- who has known him for eight years --completed a third-party function report. (R. 215). She reported that Mr. Bradley lives with her and his mother. (R. 215). Ms. Randle indicated that a daily schedule for Bradley includes going to rehab, doctor appointments, and sleeping most of the time. (R. 215). She reported that he does not need help caring for himself, but sometimes needs to be reminded to take his medication. (R. 216). He does chores around the house, like sweeping the floors and washing the dishes, but he sometimes forgets to turn the water or stove off. (R. 215-216). Ms. Randle indicated that Mr. Bradley can travel on public transportation alone and can go grocery shopping by himself. (R. 217). Though he can count money, he is not responsible for paying his bills. (R. 217). Mr. Bradley's hobbies include watching television, playing ball, fishing, talking on the phone, and going to the community center. (R. 219). Mr. Bradley gets along with others, including authority figures, but tends to argue when his personality changes. (218-219). She stated that he once was terminated from his place of employment for not following orders and has a short attention span. (R. 219-220).
The Administrative Hearing Testimony
Mr. Bradley's Testimony At his hearing, Mr. Bradley reported that he has trouble obtaining and holding a job due to his depression, alcohol, and cocaine abuse. (R. 296). While he admits to cocaine and alcohol use, he reported that he has not used cocaine for about a year (R. 49) and only drinks occasionally -- about two to three cans of beer more than once a week -- and he further acknowledged that his doctors are not aware that he drinks (R. 50, 65). He testified that his inability to hold a job was mostly due to the depression, for which he reported that he receives treatment about every two months from a psychiatrist and a therapist. (R. 51). He reported that he felt like he wanted to hurt himself or somebody else, feared that people were trying to do something to him, and he had problems with anger and frustration. (R. 52). He had trouble falling asleep at night and would doze off during the day (R. 54), and he also reported that he was a suicidal person. (R. 45). When asked if he has had any recent ideas or thoughts about committing suicide or hurting himself, he answered no. (R. 48). When asked if he heard or hears voices, Mr. Bradley testified that he sometimes hears voices even when on medication. (R. 62). But, when questioned on the issue, he said that the medication helps and he only hears voices when he forgets to take his medication. (R. 63). He also reported that he has difficulty concentrating and would stray off task about every ten to fifteen minutes. (R. 63).
Mr. Bradley said he suffered from migraine headaches, which started around the age of sixteen and worsened after he suffered a head trauma from a motorcycle accident. He reported that the migraines occur twice a day for about 30 to 35 minutes, but that they subside after he takes medication and lies down. (R. 45-47). Mr. Bradley reported additional physical ailments and difficulties, including high blood pressure, arthritis in his right shoulder and hand, problems with his hearing and breathing, and pain in his lower back from an injury that occurred while playing softball in July 2009. (R. 45, 57-60).
The Medical Expert's Testimony The medical expert, Dr. Daniel Schiff, testified that the two issues of substance abuse and depression were intertwined and could not be separated. (R. 65, 69). According to Dr. Schiff's reading of the record, Mr. Bradley shows significant improvement with both of these issues because he has become abstinent and compliant with his medication. (R. 65). Dr. Schiff testified that Mr. Bradley has been labeled with euthymic -- or normal mood -- in his last couple of doctor appointments (6 November 2008, 14 May 2009, and 19 August 2009) (R. 66). He also reported that Mr. Bradley did not report any problems with hallucinations during those last two doctor visits. (R. 66)
In terms of functional assessment, Dr. Schiff testified that he believes Mr. Bradley to be relatively functional based on his most recent DSM-IV Global Assessment of Functioning Scale (GAF). On a 100-point scale measuring the patient's overall level of psychological, social, and occupational functioning, Mr. Bradley was assigned a GAF of 55 to 60, which indicates moderate symptoms. This was based on his ability to interact with friends by playing ball, fishing, and other activities and his ability to ride the CTA, cook, shop, and do chores. (R. 67). Dr. Schiff did not find that Mr. Bradley met or medically equaled any listing. (R. 67). The expert found there was a gradual improvement in response to Mr. Bradley's treatment at the Madden Health Center. When Mr. Bradley was compliant with his medication and abstinent from drugs and alcohol, he was relatively functional, but when Mr. Bradley was not compliant and used cocaine, his symptoms resurfaced. (R. 67-68).
The Vocational Expert's Testimony The vocational expert ("VE") described Mr. Bradley's past work skill level: presser was medium work with a skill level or Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) of three, which is on the low end of the semi-skilled continuum; foundry work was heavy, unskilled work; forklift driver was medium, semi-skilled with an SVP of three; museum job as a stock person was heavy, semi-skilled with an SVP of four; UPS job as a material handler was heavy, SVP of three, and semi-skilled (R. 75-76). When Mr. Bradley was asked about the discrepancy between the reports on what the heaviest load that he could lift at his job as a presser, 20 or 40 pounds, he responded twenty-five pounds. (R. 72). The VE described Mr. Bradley as a young individual with a limited education, who has past relevant work of medium and heavy work, low end of semi-skilled without transferable skills. (R. 76).
The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the VE about a person with the same vocational profile as Mr. Bradley, working in one of the fourteen counties of the greater Chicago area, who could perform unskilled, routine, simple work, lift and carry 50-pounds occasionally and 25-pounds frequently, sit, stand or walk for 6-hours in an 8-hour workday, and who must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants. (R. 76-77). In response, the vocational expert testified that such a person could perform work as a hand packager (approximately 10,000 jobs available) and warehouse worker (3,300 jobs available). (R. 77-78). These two types of jobs require the individual to be on task 90% of the time. (R. 83). If the hypothetical scenario was further restricted to lifting and carrying a maximum load of 20-pounds frequently and 10-pounds occasionally and only using the right arm to occasional overhead reaching, then the individual could perform work as a counter clerk (4,700 jobs) and lobby attendant (5,000 jobs). (R. 78-80). These jobs require the individual to concentrate and be attentive 80% of the time. (R. 84).
The Administrative Law Judge's Decision The ALJ followed a five-step sequential process in determining whether Mr. Bradley was disabled. In step one, the ALJ found that Mr. Bradley met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through January 15, 2007. (R. 16). Second, the ALJ found that Mr. Bradley had severe impairments of migraine headaches, hypertension with no end organ damage, depression, and a history of substance abuse in partial remission. (R. 16). Third, the ALJ found that Mr. Bradley's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments. In terms of degree of limitation in the broad areas of functioning set out in the disability regulations for evaluating mental disorders and in the mental disorders listings, the ALJ found the plaintiff had mild restriction of activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties in ...