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Rounds v. Colvin

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 18, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Teresa Rounds suffers from a history of hypertension, coronary artery disease, joint pain, osteoarthritis, and depression. In 2004 she applied for disability benefits but an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied her claim. In response to a federal complaint seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision, the district court in that action remanded the matter for further consideration. Rounds v. Astrue, 549 F.Supp.2d 1010, 1018 (N.D. Ill. 2008). On remand, and after another hearing, the ALJ again found that Rounds suffered from severe impairments, but that she was not disabled during the relevant time period because she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of limited sedentary work and a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy that she could have performed. Rounds seeks to overturn that decision here. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted and Rounds's motion is denied.

Procedural History

In June 2004 Rounds filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") alleging that she became unable to work on March 1, 2000, due to joint pain, mental illness, and coronary artery disease. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 61.) Rounds later amended her onset date to May 10, 2003. (Id. at 505.) Because Rounds's last date of insured status is June 30, 2004, (id. at 495, 505), Rounds had to establish that she was disabled on or before that date in order to be entitled to DIB.

The Commissioner denied Rounds's application and her subsequent request for reconsideration. Rounds, 549 F.Supp.2d at 1012. She then requested a hearing, which took place on August 3, 2006. Id. After the hearing the ALJ ruled that Rounds was not disabled. Id. at 1014. Rounds filed a federal complaint and sought judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. Id. at 1012. The district court granted Rounds's motion for summary judgment and remanded the matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Id. at 1018.

On remand, the ALJ held another hearing, (A.R. 567-625), but ultimately denied Rounds's application for benefits, (id. at 505-21). The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision denying benefits, (id. at 492-94), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, see 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484. This action followed and after the parties consented to the jurisdiction of this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), they filed cross-motions for summary judgment.


At the hearing before the ALJ, Rounds presented both documentary and testimonial evidence in support of her claim for benefits.

A. Medical Evidence

Rounds has received treatment for cardiovascular problems, joint pain, and depression. Records from Michael Reese Hospital show that Rounds, who has a history of hypertension and coronary artery disease, underwent a three-vessel coronary artery bypass surgery in April 1995. (A.R. 133.) She returned to the hospital in 1996 complaining of a strange feeling in her left arm. (Id. at 140-41.) In 1997 she returned to the hospital for a total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes). (Id. at 170-223.) In 2000 Rounds underwent angioplasty and intracoronary stenting. (Id. at 230.) Rounds's treatment for hypertension continued with non-remarkable follow-up appointments at the cardiology clinic at Fantus Health Center ("Fantus") in March 2003, August and October 2004, and February through September 2005. (Id. at 238, 359, 365, 367, 373, 377, 379, 381, 382.) Rounds visited a cardiologist at the University of Chicago Hospital in May 2006 after what she described as a six to eight month break in cardiology treatment. (Id. at 392.) The cardiologist opined that she had "symptomatically stable coronary artery disease" with blood pressure under adequate control. (Id. at 393.)

Regarding Rounds's mental health treatment, her earliest treatment note is dated October 2003, but an evaluation in her file suggests that she may have begun treatment in 1998. (Id. at 233, 251.) That evaluation was prepared by a psychiatrist with an illegible name, who noted in a July 2004 evaluation that he or she began treating Rounds in 1998 on a monthly basis for complaints of depression and insomnia. (Id. at 233.) The psychiatrist opined that Rounds was moderately limited in her activities of daily living and markedly limited in social functioning and concentration, persistence, and pace. (Id. at 234.) Apart from that evaluation, the earliest treatment note on record dates from October 2003, and it was written by a care provider at the Community Mental Health Council. (Id. at 251.) The provider, whose name is illegible, quoted Rounds's comments that she had experienced "80% relief from depressive s/s" and felt "like my old self" after starting Prozac and low dose Wellbutrin, though she continued to struggle to sleep through the night. (Id.) The care provider noted Rounds's "alcoholic tendencies" and her intention to eliminate alcohol use, and opined that her appearance, affect, speech, thought process, thought content, attention, and memory were within normal limits. (Id. at 251-52.) The care provider also opined that Rounds was suffering from "depression with good symptom relief thus far, grief issues, etoh [alcohol] behavior in past - now decreasing." (Id. at 252.) The report indicates that Rounds's GAF score was 70-75.[2] (Id.)

At a January 2004 follow-up visit for depression and alcohol dependence, Rounds reported to a third care provider with an illegible name that her mood could be better, that her problems sleeping persisted, and that she had decreased energy, but that her concentration had improved. (Id. at 250.) The care provider opined that Rounds's affect, speech, thought content, and attention were within normal limits, and that her thought process was circumstantial (a disturbance in the thought process by details that are tangential and irrelevant). (Id.) Rounds visited with another care provider, likely Dr. Traci Powell, on May 6, 2004. (Id. at 249.) The record from that appointment is incomplete and unsigned. (Id.) The care provider noted that "things are better, " with improved sleep and appetite, though Rounds also reported difficulty caring for her daily needs and struggling with memory and concentration. (Id.)

Rounds returned on June 29, 2004, for a visit with Dr. Powell, who commented that Rounds "states she is better than the last time we met." (Id. at 248.) Rounds continued to have family stressors and had not been taking Ambien on a regular basis so that she could help care for her grandson at night. (Id.) She described her mood as good and mentioned that occupational therapy had eased many problems. (Id.) Dr. Powell opined that Rounds's affect, speech, thought process and thought content were within normal limits, and that Rounds's judgment was fair and that her insight was good. (Id.) Dr. Powell wrote that Rounds "continues to have family stressors but reports improvement in depressive symptoms." (Id.) Dr. Powell indicated a GAF score of 55-60.[3]

On July 30, 2004, Dr. Powell completed a medical evaluation form. (Id. at 235-36.) Dr. Powell wrote that she had met with Rounds every four to six weeks for about seven months. (Id. at 235.) Dr. Powell noted that Rounds's complaints of poor sleep, poor concentration and memory, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, depressed mood and low energy dated from 1990. (Id.) Dr. Powell observed that Rounds had good hygiene and grooming, was in a "good" mood, and had "shown improvement, " but she opined that Rounds had extreme limitations in activities of daily living and concentration, persistence, and pace and marked limitations in social functioning. (Id. at 236.)

Rounds returned to Dr. Powell on August 10, 2004. (Id. at 247.) Rounds told Dr. Powell that "she is feeling fine, " and "has had some days where she felt in a slump but this did not last long." (Id.) She complained of experiencing intermittent pain, which exacerbated her depression. (Id.) She was not taking Ambien and was waking after four or five hours of sleeping, but was able to return to sleep for three or four more hours at a time. (Id.) Dr. Powell noted that Rounds's affect, speech, thought process and content were within normal limits, her judgment fair, and her insight good. (Id.) Dr. Powell indicated a GAF score of 55-60. (Id.)

Rounds visited Dr. Powell again on October 5, 2004. (Id. at 246.) She had not resumed Ambien and was sleeping about five hours per night. (Id.) Rounds admitted to continued alcohol use. (Id.) Dr. Powell noted that Rounds's affect, speech, and thought content were within normal limits, her thought process reflected loosening of associations, her judgment fair, and her insight good. (Id.) Dr. Powell noted that Rounds continued to "have some depressive symptoms in the context of medication semicompliance and ongoing ETOH use." (Id.) Her GAF score remained at 55-60. (Id.) When Rounds returned in November 2004, she told Dr. Powell that her "sleep is okay, " averaging seven to eight hours a night with one nighttime waking. (Id. at 328.) Dr. Powell wrote that Rounds continued "to have periodic depression which she states doesn't last." (Id.) Dr. Powell again opined that Rounds's affect, speech, and thought content were within normal limits, her thought content was loosening of associations, her judgment was fair, and her insight was good. (Id.)

In November 2004, Barry Hurwitz, Ph.D., a non-examining psychologist who reviewed Rounds's mental health records for the purpose of providing an evaluation for the state disability agency, opined that Rounds "suffers a mental impairment (Mood Disorder, NOS, Alcohol Abuse) that is not severe." (Id. at 254.) Dr. Hurwitz noted that Dr. Powell's treatment notes describe a person who is "essential[ly] WNL, " meaning "within normal limits, " which did not support Dr. Powell's assessment of Rounds's extreme and marked limitations. (Id.) In Dr. Hurwitz's opinion, Rounds did not have any restrictions in activities of daily living or difficulties in maintaining social functioning, though she showed mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (Id. at 258-270.) Dr. Hurwitz found no evidence of episodes of decompensation. (Id. at 268.)

Rounds continued to see Dr. Powell on a monthly basis, with some breaks, in 2005 and into 2006. (Id. at 317-27.) Rounds's GAF score remained a constant 55-60 from January 2005 through May 2006, when Dr. Powell wrote the final treatment note. (Id.) Dr. Powell completed a second mental impairment questionnaire in February 2005. (Id. at 282-89.) Dr. Powell noted that Rounds "has numerous medical conditions which exacerbate her depression and vice versa." (Id. at 284.) She opined that Rounds is moderately limited in her activities of daily living and social functioning, suffers frequent deficiencies of concentration, persistence, or pace, and has had three or more episodes of deterioration in work or work-like settings. (Id. at 288.)

When Dr. Powell completed a third mental impairment questionnaire in July 2006, she indicated that the symptoms and limitations described in the questionnaire were present as of June 30, 2004. (Id. at 337-41.) Dr. Powell opined that Rounds's current GAF scores were 50-55 and commented that her "chronic pain... exacerbates her depression." (Id. at 337-38.) According to Dr. Powell, Rounds maintained fair hygiene and grooming, was cooperative, and exhibited good eye contact. (Id. at 338.) Dr. Powell noted the following symptoms associated with her diagnosis of major depressive disorder: poor memory, appetite disturbance with weight change, sleep and mood disturbance, pervasive loss of interests, psychomotor agitation or retardation, feelings of guilt/worthlessness, difficulty thinking or concentrating, social withdrawal or isolation, blunt, flat or inappropriate affect, decreased energy, and somatization unexplained by organic disturbance. (Id.) She opined that Rounds's impairments would cause her to be absent from work more than three times a month. (Id. at 340.) In describing Rounds's limitations, Dr. Powell opined that Rounds had poor or no ability to remember work-like procedures, but that she can understand and carry out simple instructions, maintain attention for two-hour segments, work in coordination or proximity to others without distraction, complete a workday or work week without interruptions from her symptoms, and work at a consistent pace. (Id. at 340-41.) She also opined that Rounds was seriously limited but not precluded in her abilities to maintain regular attendance and punctuality, to sustain an ordinary routine without supervision, to make simple work-related decisions, to ask simple questions or request assistance, to accept instructions or respond appropriately ...

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