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Robert G. Hoyt, Jr v. Michael J. Astrue

December 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey T. Gilbert Magistrate Judge


Claimant Robert G. Hoyt, Jr. ("Claimant") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking reversal and remand of the decision by Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), in which the Commissioner denied Claimant's application for disability insurance benefits. This matter is before the court on Claimant's motion for summary judgment [Dkt.#47]. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge's decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits should be reversed and remanded as it was not made in accordance with the applicable legal standards and is not supported by substantial evidence of record. Claimant raises in support of his motion that the ALJ (1) failed to assess the severity of the overall combination of Claimant's impairments, (2) failed to properly undertake an evaluation of Claimant's impairment to determine if they were "equal in severity" to a listing, (3) did not predicate his assessment on Claimant's ability to perform work related activities on substantial medical evidence, (4) made a credibility determination that was patently wrong, and (5) relied upon flawed vocational expert testimony. For the reasons set forth below, Claimant's motion for summary judgment [Dkt.#47] is denied and the Commissioner's decision denying Claimant's application for disability benefits is affirmed

I. Background

A. Procedural History

Claimant filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on August 23, 2007, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2000. R.103-104. Claimant's date last insured was December 31, 2003.*fn1

R.228. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied his application on November 9, 2007. R.107. Claimant then filed a request for reconsideration on January 10, 2008, which was denied on March 3, 2008. R.118. Claimant then filed a timely written request on April 11, 2008, for a hearing before an ALJ. R.8. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 11, 2009, at which both Claimant and a Vocational Expert, William Schweis, testified. R.8. On June 22, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying the claims for benefits. R.8-19. Claimant filed a timely request on July 29, 2009, for review of the ALJ's decision with the SSA's Appeals Council. R.1. On October 23, 2009, the Appeals Council denied his request for review, thus rendering a final administrative decision by the Commissioner. R.1-3. Claimant timely filed a complaint in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) on December 1, 2009 [Dkt.#1].

B. Personal History

Claimant was born on April 21, 1973, and was twenty-seven years old at the time of his alleged onset of disability on December 1, 2000. R.103. He has three years of college education. R.226. His past relevant work was as a carpenter, fast-food worker, grocery clerk, and machinist. R.221. Claimant was forced to stop working on December 1, 2000, due to his physical impairments. R.220.

C. Medical Evidence

1. Hinsdale Orthopedics

Claimant underwent a workman's compensation evaluation at Hinsdale Orthopedics on March 8, 2001. R.288. Claimant indicated undergoing a discogram two months prior, which revealed a fairly organized disc at the L4-5 level and a mildly disorganized disc at L5-S1. R.288. Dr. Bardfield noted a full range of motion in the lumbar spine with some discomfort at the end range of extension and flexion. R.288. Strength tests were normal in the hip and knee joints, but slightly decreased in the right ankle compared to the left. R.288. Some hamstring tightness was also noted in the right lower extremity and mild tightness and discomfort in the right lumbrosacral paraspinal area. R.288. Claimant was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, right lumbar radiculitis, L5-S1 annular tear, and mild right sacroiliac joint dysfunction. R.288-89. The doctor recommended physical therapy and prescribed Neurontin to be used progressively increasing the dose and noted if Claimant's symptoms did not improve, that he would be considered at maximum medical improvement for conservative treatment. R.289. Due to Claimant's high level of functioning, surgical intervention was not recommended. R.288.

2. Stroger Hospital

Six years later, Claimant was seen at Aunt Martha's clinic for right upper extremity radiculopathy and advised to go to the hospital for further evaluation. R.325. At Stroger Hospital on July 23, 2007, Claimant was evaluated and advised to obtain an MRI. R.325. An MRI of Claimant's cervical spine was taken on July 26, 2007, which revealed a congenitally narrow cervical spinal canal, disc bulging and superimposed disc protrusion at C6/7 with evidence of central canal stenosis and additional disc bulging at all other levels. R.322-23.

Due to numbness and tingling in Claimant's left and right hands, an EMG was performed on February 13, 2008. R.358. The EMG study was normal, with no electrophysiological evidence of cervical radiculopathy affecting either upper extremity or of median mononeuropathy at either wrist. R.358.

3. Dr. Vinod G. Motiani

Claimant underwent a consultative evaluation ("CE") with Dr. Vinod G. Motiana on November 1, 2007. R.346. Claimant indicated continuous pain in his lower back, right thigh and right leg of 5/10 in intensity which was exacerbated by repetitive motions, prolonged walking, and standing for longer than fifteen to twenty minutes. R346. Climbing a flight of stairs, however, generally did not cause Claimant any problems.

R.346. Dr. Motiana noted right movements in his cervical spine were slightly tender and minimal spasms. R.348. His tandem gait, tippy toe walking, heel walking, and ability to kneel and squat were all unremarkable. R.348. Dr. Motiana indicated this could mean possible degenerative disc disease, possible right lumbar radiculitis and mild right sacroiliac dysfunction. R.348.

4. Dr. Virgilio Pilapil

Dr. Virgilio Pilapil performed a physical residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn2 assessment on November 7, 2007. R.336. Dr. Pilapil indicated a functional capacity to lift fifty pounds occasionally, twenty-five pounds frequently, and to stand and/or walk for six hours and to sit for six hours out of an eight hour work day, with unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R.337. Dr. Pilapil indicated Claimant therefore retains the ability to perform medium work. R.343.

5. St. James Hospital -- Health Center

A CT scan was performed on Claimant's cervical spine at St. James Hospital on June 22, 2007. R. 423. The six different projections revealed minimal degenerative changes involving the lower cervical spine. R.423. An ultrasound was also performed on the left side of Claimant's skull. R.424. There was a well-defined echo complex mass lesion in the skull on the left side, but its significance was unknown. R.424. Due to persistent hip pain, an MRI was performed of his right hip on February 20, 2008. R.391. However, the MRI was unremarkable. R.391. An additional MRI of Claimant's lumbar spine was also performed on November 24, 2008. R.388. The MRI showed moderate degenerative changes of the lumbar spine, most severely noted at L5-S1. R.389.

6. Dr. Jennifer D. L. Byrd

Claimant's treating physician, Dr. Jennifer D. L. Byrd, the Medical Director of Aunt Martha's Healthcare Network of Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center, Inc., provided a report to the State of Illinois Department of Human Services on June 12, 2008. R.434. Dr. Byrd's report was based on Claimant's visits at her center since July 23, 2007. R.430. The report noted multiple traumatic injuries resulting in neck pain, hip pain, and a decreased range of motion in his cervical spine. R.431. Dr. Byrd noted Claimant's ambulation was normal. R.431. Dr. Byrd noted a twenty percent reduced capacity to walk and perform activities of daily living, a twenty to fifty percent reduced capacity to bend, stand, stoop, sit, and turn, and a greater than fifty percent reduced capacity to climb, push, pull and perform finger dexterity. R.433. Claimant also was noted to be able to lift no more than ten pounds at a time during an eight hour work day. R.433.

Dr. Byrd also provided a report for additional medical information for Claimant's hearing on March 11, 2009. R.434. Dr. Byrd noted that Claimant suffers from severe, constant, and activity-limiting pain in his back, neck, and right hip. R.438. This pain was noted to improve with medication and intermittent periods of rest. R.438. Claimant indicated the pain worsened with long-term sitting, long-term standing, bending, twisting and walking. R.438. A physical examination revealed a severely limited range of motion with flexion and extension of his spine, point tenderness along his spine, and a slowed mildly based gait. R.438. Dr. Byrd noted that this condition is disabling and expected to last for years. R.438. Dr. Byrd stated that "due to the severity of his back pain, [he] is a poor candidate for usual and ordinary employment given the ...

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