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Vicki Marie Jones v. Michael J. Astrue

October 10, 2012



Susan E. Cox United States Magistrate Judge

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


Plaintiff, Vicki Marie Jones, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("disability benefits") under the Social Security Act ("the Act").*fn2 The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Ms. Jones seeks a judgment reversing the Commissioner's final decision or remanding the matter for additional proceedings [dkt. 11], while the Commissioner seeks a judgment affirming his decision [dkt 13]. For the reasons set forth below, Ms. Jones's motion is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.


Vicki Marie Jones applied for disability benefits on November 2, 2007, alleging that she had been unable to work since March 1, 2000, later amended to October 1, 2007, because of syncope,*fn3 carpel tunnel syndrome,*fn4 a herniated lumbar disk,*fn5 and depression.*fn6 This is Ms. Jones's fourth application for disability benefits. She applied unsuccessfully in 1995, 1997, and 2005.*fn7 Her current claim was denied on April 25, 2007.*fn8 Ms. Jones then filed a request for reconsideration on May 14, 2008,*fn9 which was denied on July 16, 2008.*fn10 On July 27, 2008, Ms. Jones requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"),*fn11 which was granted on May 14, 2009.*fn12 The hearing took place before ALJ Janice M. Bruning on July 20, 2009,*fn13 but was continued while more evidence was collected.*fn14 The supplemental hearing was held on February 10, 2010.*fn15 Following the hearing, on June 9, 2010, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, concluding that Ms. Jones was not disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time after her application was filed.*fn16 The Appeals Council denied Ms. Jones's request to review the ALJ decision on August 26, 2011, meaning the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.*fn17 Ms. Jones filed this action on September 16, 2011.


Ms. Jones was born on October 12, 1956.*fn18 She is 5'4" tall and at the time of her current application for disability benefits, weighed approximately 196 pounds.*fn19 At the time of her application, she had been a smoker for thirty-five years.*fn20 Aside from the ailments she complains of in her application, she has had a hysterectomy and has sought treatment for many ailments, including respiratory issues, flu,food allergies, cavities, insect and spider bites, burns, rashes, knee pain, vaginal itching, and fatigue. We discuss Ms. Jones's medical record prior to her disability application, the period between her disability application and ALJ hearing, the testimony given at the ALJ hearing, and finally the ALJ's decision.

A. Medical Records Prior to Ms. Jones's Application

The medical records in the administrative record begin in 2002, when Ms. Jones was forty-five years old.*fn21 Although her disability application alleges both physical and mental health conditions, the only evidence of any mental health condition in her record prior to her application is one self-report of depression on July 29, 2003 at Rainbow Medical Clinic ("Rainbow Clinic").*fn22

Rainbow Clinic is located at Hesed House, the shelter where she was residing.*fn23 She was referred to a mental health clinic, but there is no evidence in the record that she followed up with the referral.*fn24 She claims to have been hospitalized in psychiatric facilities twice in the 1970s after being arrested and attempting suicide, but there is no evidence of this in the current record.*fn25 Therefore, in this section we discuss the physical complaints from her disability application: her wrist pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, her syncope, and her back pain.

Ms. Jones fractured her right wrist on July 31, 2002.*fn26 It was put in a cast and she received follow-up treatment at an orthopedics clinic.*fn27 In July 2004, she reported pain in her right wrist and was later diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists.*fn28 In 2007, the numbness from the carpal tunnel syndrome was "off and on and . . . not constant."*fn29

On September 8, 2004, Ms. Jones presented at the Emergency Department ("ED") at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, Illinois ("Mercy") after fainting at a bus stop.*fn30 She underwent a battery of medical tests, including a series of cardiac tests, all of which came back normal.*fn31 Doctors noted that Ms. Jones was overweight and a heavy smoker, and advised her to stop smoking.*fn32 They also documented that she had reported a history of migraines and discharged her with Tylenol for migraines, the only medication she was prescribed.*fn33

Ms. Jones had another syncopic episode while at work on November 21, 2005.*fn34 She was then taken to Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois.*fn35 Another round of cardiac tests were performed, which again were normal.*fn36 The next day, doctors noted that Ms. Jones was stable, diagnosed her with presyncope and hypertension, and discharged her.*fn37 On June 27, 2006, Ms. Jones presented at the Mercy ED complaining of dizziness and chest pain after climbing stairs, but she was sent home the same day after the symptoms resolved themselves.*fn38
Almost a year later, on March 22, 2007, Ms. Jones again presented at the Mercy ED complaining of lower back pain triggered by getting out of the shower.*fn39 Doctors prescribed pain medication and discharged her the same day.*fn40 Approximately six weeks later, Ms. Jones followed up at Rainbow Clinic.*fn41 She reported that she had a herniated disk and that she was in seven out of ten pain.*fn42 The clinic physician prescribed her additional pain medication.*fn43

On October 3, 2007, two days after her alleged disability onset date, Ms. Jones reported to the physician at Rainbow Clinic that she had suffered another syncopic episode during the previous week.*fn44 She also said, at the clinic visit, that she had a small brain mass, but there is no evidence of this anywhere else in the medical record.*fn45 The physician noted that Ms. Jones needed an MRI of her brain, but no evidence of the MRI having been performed exists in the record.*fn46

B. Period between Ms. Jones's Application & the ALJ Hearing

On January 13, 2008, on her first Disability Report, Ms. Jones reported that she "pass[ed] out" because of her syncope.*fn47 She also stated that her back "act[ed] up," and that as a result, she could not stand up straight and was in "extreme pain."*fn48 Furthermore, she claimed that her hands were "constantly numb" and that she "drop[ped] things right out of [her] hands because [she did] not know the tightness that [she had] to hold the object[s with]."*fn49

The SSA referred Ms. Jones for multiple examinations as part of their initial determination. Her first was a psychological evaluation performed on March 26, 2008 by John L. Peggau, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist.*fn50 Dr. Peggau deferred a finding on any Axis I psychiatric disorder, but diagnosed her as having a personality disorder.*fn51 Additionally, he stated that during his consultation with Ms. Jones, she was "irritable and abrupt."*fn52 He reported that her reason for her behavior, as stated by her, was "just the fact that I'm here!"*fn53

Five days later, Ms. Jones underwent a physical evaluation by Vinod G. Motiani, M.D., a state agency internal medicine physician.*fn54 Dr. Motiani diagnosed Ms. Jones with (1) syncope of undetermined etiology; (2) clinical history suggestive of carpal tunnel; (3) history of a herniated disk based on a previous MRI, but with a fairly good range of movement; and (4) depression.*fn55 Following this evaluation, Ms. Jones underwent a Physical Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Assessment by state agency physician Richard Bilinsky, M.D.*fn56 Dr. Bilinsky found that Ms. Jones was able to occasionally lift up to twenty pounds; frequently lift up to ten pounds; stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight hour work day; and sit for a total of about six hours in an eight hour work day. He found her unlimited in her ability to push and/or pull.*fn57 He also found no postural, manipulative, visual or communicative limitations.*fn58 He further found that Ms. Jones should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.*fn59 Additionally, Dr. Bilinsky noted that he found Dr. Motiani's evaluation more credible than Ms. Jones's complaints.*fn60
Following Dr. Bilinsky's evaluation, Ms. Jones underwent further evaluations to determine her psychiatric limitations, performed by David Gilliland, Psy.D. on April 19, 2008.*fn61 Dr. Gilliland's sole diagnosis was a personality disorder.*fn62 He found Ms. Jones to be: mildly limited in her activities of daily living; moderately limited in maintaining social functioning; and moderately limited in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.*fn63 Dr. Gilliland also performed an RFC assessment, in which he found Ms. Jones to be: moderately limited in her ability to understand and remember detailed instructions; moderately limited in her ability to carry out detailed instructions; and moderately limited in her ability to interact appropriately with the general public.*fn64 Following these assessments, Ms. Jones was determined by the SSA not to be disabled.*fn65

On May 1, 2008, approximately a week after the SSA's initial determination, Ms. Jones presented at Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center and Health Center ("Aunt Martha's") with lower back pain.*fn66 She was diagnosed with a lumbar strain and prescribed pain medication.*fn67 This complaint was reflected on the Disability Report she completed when she filed for reconsideration.*fn68

On this Disability Report, Ms. Jones noted that she had "more back pain" and that the pain was "constant."*fn69 However, the SSA again determined that Ms. Jones was not disabled, without ordering any subsequent assessments.*fn70 Ms. Jones then requested an ALJ hearing.*fn71 Incidentally, Ms. Jones submitted two additional medical records obtained after this time, but they were not related to her disability claim.*fn72

C. First ALJ Hearing

On July 30, 2009, ALJ Janice M. Bruning conducted a hearing regarding Ms. Jones's disability claim.*fn73 Ms. Jones was represented by counsel.*fn74 The ALJ heard testimony from Ms. Jones and her counsel.*fn75 Vocational Expert ("VE") Edward Pagella was present but did not testify because the hearing had to be continued in order to collect additional evidence regarding Ms. Jones's mental health.*fn76

Ms. Jones's counsel started the hearing by stating that she had requested, but not received, a consultative evaluation in order to administer a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory ("MMPI"), a depression test, on Ms. Jones.*fn77 Ms. Jones began her testimony by stating that since she fractured her right wrist, her hand "still goes numb," but that she can still use her right hand.*fn78

Similarly, she feels numbness in her left hand but can still use it.*fn79 Regarding her back pain, she testified that she was not undergoing any physical therapy treatment and was treating the pain with fifty Tylenol pills per week.*fn80 She stated that she had passed out two weeks prior, which was the first time since 2007, but did not say what caused her to pass out.*fn81 In that time, she had suffered occasional dizzy spells, but did not go to the hospital for them.*fn82 In terms of her depression, Ms. Jones testified that she was not seeing ...

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