United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MICHELE L. CASTANEDA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARIA VALDEZ, Magistrate Judge.
This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff Michele Castaneda's claim for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Castaneda's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 20] is granted in part and denied in part. The Government's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 30] is denied. The Court finds that this matter should be remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Castaneda originally applied for Title II Disability Insurance benefits on November 30, 2011, and for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income on January 3, 2006. (R. 80-81.) Castaneda alleged disability beginning March 31, 2004 due to diabetes and mental impairments of depression and anxiety. (R. 84, 207.) The application was initially denied on April 14, 2006, and upon reconsideration on June 27, 2006 (R. 80-84.) Castaneda timely filed a request August 7, 2006 for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 100.) At the hearing on October 23, 2008, Castaneda personally appeared and testified and was represented by counsel. (R. 39.) A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. ( Id. )
On February 2, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying Castaneda's claim for benefits, finding her not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 25-36.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Castaneda's request for review on June 22, 2011, (R. 1, ) leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner and therefore reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
A. Claimant's History
Castaneda was born on May 5, 1976. (R. 40.) She completed the eighth grade, but never attended high school or received a GED. (R. 41.) Castaneda lives with her parents and her two children, ages seven and four. (R. 40-41.) Castaneda worked steadily as a restaurant employee and in retail from 1992 to 2004, except for one three month gap between November, 2002 and March, 2003. (R. 168.)
In her interview with the disability field office, Castaneda reported that she cannot drive due to her diabetes, and therefore cannot work. (R. 152.) She initially stopped working due to hospitalizations which resulted in excessive absences. ( Id. ) In her most recent job, Castaneda frequently lifted 10-25 pounds. (R. 154.) In a separate questionnaire submitted in support of her disability claim, Castaneda reported that nausea and vomiting make tasks like preparing meals and reading difficult. (R. 188.) She struggles with opening lids and carrying groceries due to weakness in her arms. ( Id. ) Castaneda occasionally suffers from cramping and tingling in her fingers, resulting in difficulties with dialing telephones, picking up small objects, or writing. ( Id. ) She estimates that she can sit for half an hour at a time and cannot sit for two hours without vomiting and needing to lie down. (R. 189.) She cannot stand long enough to make meals requiring more time than simple foods and usually avoids shopping due to pain. ( Id. ) She estimates that she needs 12-20 rest periods lasting 20 minutes each during the day. ( Id. )
B. Testimony and Medical Evidence
1. Castaneda's Testimony
Castaneda testified before the ALJ that she is not currently working and has not worked since the date that she initially claimed disability. (R. 42.) She cannot work due to complications associated with her insulin dependant diabetes and her anxiety attacks. (R. 42-43.) Her anxiety attacks exacerbate difficulties associated with her diabetes and cause her to breathe heavily, experience stomach pain, and vomit. (R. 43, 45.) She has a panic attack or disorientation due to low blood sugar two to three times a week. (R. 44.)
Castaneda testified that she is not able to drive when she takes her daily medication for depression and anxiety. (R. 49.) She takes additional medications during panic attacks. (R. 50.) Events with varying intensities cause Castaneda to have panic attacks. (R. 51-52.) She typically responds to these by sitting in a cool, quiet area until they subside. (R. 51.) Castaneda struggles with concentration due to depression. (R. 55.)
Castaneda testified that, as a result of her diabetes, she cannot stand for more than an hour at a time. (R. 52.) She previously suffered from neuropathy in her legs and feet, which has improved to the point that she now only experiences numbness in her calves and legs and in her left hand. ( Id. ) Castaneda suffers from blurred vision and sees spots in her right eye during diabetic episodes due to an accident she suffered six months prior to the hearing. (R. 68.) She has been told by doctors that she should stand up and move at least every twenty minutes in order to avoid experiencing numbness in her legs. (R. 53.) Castaneda also requires two lunch breaks and four additional breaks through the normal work day to check her blood sugar and take insulin. (R. 56.)
Castaneda is able to care for herself and for her children, although she receives help from her parents with childcare. (R. 57.) She cleans her own sleeping area and her mother typically cleans the rest of their home. ( Id. ) She does her own laundry but does not fold it. (R. 57-58.) She is able to prepare simple meals and shop for groceries. ( Id. )
Castaneda testified that she has no close friends outside of her family. (R. 59.) She attends church regularly, but does not belong to any social groups or other organizations. (R. 60.) She is able to drive to drop her children off and pick them up from school and to attend her daughter's extracurricular activities. ( Id. ) Castaneda stated that she does not use alcohol or drugs. ( Id. )
2. Medical evidence
a. Hospital ...