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Pruitt v. Colvin

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 23, 2013

JACK A. PRUITT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


MICHAEL T. MASON, Magistrate Judge.

Claimant, Jack A. Pruitt ("Pruitt" or "claimant"), has brought a motion for summary judgment [12] seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied Pruitt's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), and 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment [19] asking the court to uphold the previous decision.[2] The court has jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons set forth below, claimant's motion for summary judgment is denied, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted, and the Commissioner's previous decision denying benefits is affirmed.


A. Procedural History

Pruitt filed for DIB and SSI on April 7, 2010 alleging disability beginning April 30, 2006 due to breathing and heart problems, a learning disability, mood swings, bipolar disorder, leg problems, diabetes, and high cholesterol. (R. 95, 176-84.) His claims were denied initially on November 8, 2010 and upon reconsideration on February 15, 2011. (R. 95-99, 106-110, 114-17.) Thereafter, the claimant filed a timely request for an administrative hearing. (R. 118.) The hearing was held on October 12, 2011 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Kimberly S. Cromer. In addition to testimony from the claimant, the ALJ heard testimony from medical expert Dr. Bernard Stevens and vocational expert James Breen. (R. 45-90.)

On November 21, 2011, ALJ Cromer issued a written decision finding that Pruitt was not disabled under the Act. (R. 26-39.) Pruitt filed a timely request for review with the Appeals Council, which was denied on July 27, 2012. (R. 1-6.) The ALJ's decision then became the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed. The parties subsequently consented to the jurisdiction of this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) [7].

B. Medical Evidence

1. Treating Physicians

Among other things, Pruitt's medical records reveal treatment for headaches, chest pain, back pain, and depression. As an initial matter, we note that although the record reveals that Pruitt repeatedly told physicians that he suffered from four myocardial infarctions (or heart attacks), as well as a stroke, the record does not include specific records regarding those incidents.

Pruitt was admitted to Rush-Copley Medical Center on February 19, 2007 complaining of chest pain with some radiation to his neck and back and associated dizziness. (R. 290.) He described the pain as similar to that which he suffered when he was diagnosed with a heart attack in 2003. ( Id. ) Pruitt claimed he had not followed up following the 2003 incident and ceased taking his medications. ( Id. ) A history of hypertension, angina, asthma, bronchitis, heavy tobacco use, and depression were noted. ( Id. ) A physical examination revealed essentially unremarkable results. ( Id. ) An electrocardiogram ("EKG") showed increased sinus rhythm in V4-V6. ( Id. ) However, the results of an echocardiogram were normal. (R. 288.) A chest x-ray also revealed normal results. (R. 298.)

Pruitt was discharged on February 20, 2007 after a myocardial infarction was ruled out, and was directed to return the next day for a stress test. (R. 292.) During that test, Pruitt became dizzy and was taken to the emergency room. ( Id. ) A second EKG again revealed increased sinus rhythm in V4-V6. ( Id. ) His head CT was normal. (R. 302.) Following a normal cardiac catheterization on February 22, 2007, the examining physician stated "we did not find any significant obstructive disease to explain [Pruitt's] chest pain. Other causes for his chest pain should be looked into. His risk factor of hypertension should be treated." (R. 294.)

On February 23, 2007, Pruitt presented to Good Samaritan Hospital with continued chest and back pain after Rush-Copley told him "there was nothing that could be done for him." (R. 320.) The examining physician noted diffuse wheezing and tenderness on palpation of the right parasternal muscle, but found no other abnormal results upon physical examination. (R. 320-21.) The doctor reviewed and noted the normal cardiac catheterization and CT scan from Pruitt's recent visit to Rush-Copley. (R. 321.) Pruitt was discharged to home with "acute chest/back pain" and advised to take acetaminophen with codeine. (R. 326.)

On November 21, 2007, Pruitt returned to Good Samaritan Hospital for chest discomfort. (R. 309.) Pruitt stated that he was admitted to Mercy Hospital the day before, had an abnormal stress test, but was then told by the cardiologist that the test was normal. (R. 309, 313.) The physical exam at Good Samaritan revealed primarily normal results. (R. 310-11.) A CT scan was negative. (R. 311.) The physician noted that "there has been no documented coronary artery disease in this patient." (R. 309.) As for the abnormal stress test at Mercy, the physician opined that the test was likely "misinterpreted and then corrected." (R. 311.) Pruitt was diagnosed with acute chest pain of a "noncardiac origin, " and epigastric pain with probable reflux. (R. 317.) He was advised to take protonix and follow up with a family physician. ( Id. )

The medical record is silent until Pruitt presented to Aunt Martha's Health Center on January 8, 2010 complaining of vision problems and headaches. (R. 335.) On February 18, 2010, he underwent a psychiatric evaluation at Aunt Martha's during which he reported a history of bipolar disorder. (R. 332.) He was previously seeing a psychiatrist, but stopped doing so after he lost his job. ( Id. ) Pruitt described a history of four heart attacks and a stroke. ( Id. ) The examining physician noted symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder and prescribed Celexa. (R. 333-34.)

On March 25, 2010, Pruitt returned to Aunt Martha's with increased depressive feelings and irritability, though he was tolerating Celexa. (R. 329.) Swelling in his feet was noted and he explained that he only sleeps in a recliner. ( Id. ) On May 18, 2010, Pruitt exhibited wheezing and shortness of breath, which the examining physician opined was "mild intermittent asthma vs. COPD." (R. 328.) The physician recommended albuterol and a nebulizer treatment. ( Id. )

Also on May 18, 2010, the physician from Aunt Martha's submitted a report to the State of Illinois Department of Human Services regarding Pruitt's condition. (R. 569-72.) The physician indicated his diagnoses as coronary artery disease, bipolar disorder, hypertension, high cholesterol, and chronic back pain. (R. 569.) He noted Pruitt's complaints of chest pain, shortness of breath, and back pain. (R. 570.) According to the Aunt Martha's physician, Pruitt had 20-50% reduced capacity in his ability to walk, bend, stand, stoop, turn, climb, push, and pull. (R. 572.) He found a 20% reduced capacity in his ability to sit, his finger dexterity, and his fine manipulation. ( Id. ) He also noted that Pruitt could lift no more than twenty pounds at a time with frequent lifting of up to ten pounds. ( Id. )

On May 19, 2010, Pruitt went to Provena Mercy Medical Center ("Mercy") complaining of a headache mostly in the left occipital area. (R. 337.) Dr. Muhammad Siddiq performed a consultative examination and assessed a history of depression, anxiety, and angina. ( Id. ) Dr. Siddiq reported that a chest x-ray, head CT, and EKG were negative, and that he found no abnormal findings on examination. (R. 337-38, 340-42.) Despite Pruitt's complaints of swollen legs, Dr. Siddiq found his legs to be "completely normal without any evidence of any swelling or edema." (R. 339.) Dr. Siddiq recommended gabapentin and that Pruitt follow-up with a pain clinic. (R. 337.)

It appears that Pruitt was discharged on May 21, 2010, but returned that same day when his headache returned. (R. 390.) Another CT exam was ordered, which revealed normal results other than paranasal sinus disease. (R. 393.) Pruitt was given vicodin and discharged. (R. 392.)

Pruitt again returned to Mercy on June 10, 2010 complaining of a headache and chest pain. (R. 371.) Chest imaging revealed no acute cardiopulmonary abnormalities or disease. (R. 364-65.) An EKG showed normal sinus rhythm. (R. 376.) A month later, Pruitt was back at Mercy with chest pain and shortness of breath, unresolved with nitroglycerin or nebulizer. (R. 346, 351.) He exhibited wheezing on examination. (R. 352.) His EKG and chest imaging were again normal. (R. 360, 363.) It appears Pruitt refused further treatment and was not admitted to Mercy. (R. 357.)

On July 11, 2010, Pruitt presented to Rush-Copley with chest pain radiating to the back, and shortness of breath. (R. 398.) Pruitt again stated that he had suffered four heart attacks, the first one being in 2008. (R. 399.) He also stated that he suffered a stroke in 2009. ( Id. ) A physical examination by Dr. Natalie Choi showed audible wheezing, no edema, and full muscle strength in all extremities. (R. 401.) An EKG and chest x-ray were normal. ( Id. ) Dr. Choi assessed "chest pain, atypical. Possibly concerning for cardiac origin as patient may be diabetic." ( Id. ) However, she suspected that the primary cause of Pruitt's chest pain was related to his asthma. ( Id. ) Pruitt was admitted to "rule out myocardial infarction" and a possible stress test. ( Id. ) An echocardiogram on July 13, 2010 showed no significant functional or structural abnormalities. (R. 403-04.) An MRI showed no disc herniation or stenosis. (R. 435.)

On July 20, 2010, Pruitt returned to Rush-Copley due to increasing shortness of breath with associated chest pain. (R. 411.) Pruitt was seen by the cardiology department. (R. 415-19.) After reviewing recent testing and normal stress test results, the cardiac department determined that Pruitt suffered from "atypical likely non-cardiac chest pain" and he was discharged to home with a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation. (R. 419-21.)

On August 10, 2010, Pruitt presented to Rush-Copley with continuing chest and back pain, and shortness of breath. (R. 422.) Pruitt was again referred for a cardiology consult, which resulted in no significant findings other than wheezing and sinus tachycardia. (R. 426-30.) The examining ...

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