United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.
Kay Trammell claims that she is unable to work because of knee, back, hip, and arm pain stemming from osteoarthritis. She sought disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), see 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, but her application was denied in a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Trammell filed this appeal from that decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and currently before the court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted and Trammell's is denied:
Trammell applied for a period of disability and DIB on July 31, 2009, claiming that she became unable to work on July 10, 2009. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 77, 188.) After her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 94-99), Trammell sought and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ initiated a hearing on August 20, 2010, and explained to Trammell her right to representation. (Id. at 63-65.) When Trammell said that she would like to pursue representation, the ALJ adjourned the hearing until February 15, 2011. Trammell retained an attorney who represented her at the new hearing, at which she testified. (Id. at 18-58.) On March 8, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Trammell is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and denying her DIB claim. (Id. at 77-85.) When the Appeals Council denied Trammell's request for review, (id. at 1-3), the ALJ's denial of benefits became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). On August 23, 2012, Trammell filed the current suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 10).
In July 2009 Trammell was let go from her job as a data entry specialist for Merrill Lynch Brokerage. (A.R. 28-29, 31, 267.) Shortly after she lost her job, Trammell applied for DIB, claiming that arthritis-related pain in her back, knees, hips, and arms prevented her from working. (Id. at 188-94.) Trammell, who was 64 years old when she stopped working, presented both testimonial and documentary evidence at her February 2011 hearing.
A. Medical Evidence
Trammell's documentary evidence shows that in February and March 2009 she sought emergency treatment for intermittent discomfort in her left arm. (A.R. 306-08.) In the wake of those visits Trammell's treating physician, Dr. Rosenberg, ordered radiology tests for her chest, shoulder, and back. The results showed a normal heart but degenerative changes around Trammell's left shoulder and back, with some narrowing in her intervertebral disc space with osteophyte formation. (Id. at 299-301.) In August 2009, the month after she lost her job, Trammell reported to Dr. Rosenberg that her knees "bother her, " but Dr. Rosenberg wrote "negative" in her "problem list" with respect to Trammell's neck and extremities. (Id. at 327.) Because she had complained of chest pain and had a history of left arm pain, Dr. Rosenberg referred Trammell for cardiac nuclear imaging, which resulted in normal findings. (Id. at 326.)
In October 2009 a consulting physician, Dr. Patil, performed an internal medicine consultative examination at the request of the state disability determination services office. (Id. at 369-372.) Trammell reported to Dr. Patil that the pain in her left knee was at the level of nine out of ten, but she had no complaints with respect to her other joints. (Id. at 369.) He noted that she was moderately obese (her BMI was greater than 38), but walked with a normal gait. (Id. at 370, 372.) Dr. Patil examined Trammell and noted that there were no obvious deformities of her spine and she did not show any paravertebral tenderness. (Id. at 371.) He rated her motor strength as 5/5 in her upper and lower extremities and found her fine and gross manipulative abilities in her hands and fingers to be normal. (Id.) He also reviewed an x-ray of her knee taken the same day as the examination and noted that it revealed small osteophytes and some joint space narrowing, but no acute bone or joint abnormality. (Id. at 372.)
Two weeks after the consultative examination, medical consultant Dr. Calixto Aquino reviewed Trammell's file and completed a residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment. (Id. at 378-85.) Dr. Aquino opined that Trammell can occasionally lift 20 pounds, stand, walk, or sit for about six hours in an eight-hour day, and is unlimited in her ability to push and pull. (Id. at 379.) Based on her knee pain, Dr. Aquino concluded that Trammell can only occasionally climb, kneel, crouch, or crawl. (Id. at 380.) In the "additional comments" section of his report, Dr. Aquino wrote that he found Trammell's pain allegations only partially credible. (Id. at 385.)
Nine months after Dr. Aquino's RFC assessment, in July 2010, Trammell fell on her left knee. (Id. at 409.) Dr. Rosenberg ordered x-rays, which revealed no fractures, but showed degenerative changes throughout her spine, most pronounced at the L5-S1 level. (Id. at 415-17.) The tests also revealed what the reviewing doctor described as "large marginal osteophytes" in her right knee and "small marginal osteophytes" in her left knee, consistent with radiographic osteoarthritis. (Id. at 417.) Two months later, in September 2010, Trammell submitted to MRIs on her knees, hips, and back. (Id. at 429-36.) Those tests showed moderate cartilage narrowing and osteophytes in her left knee, moderate to marked cartilage narrowing and osteophytes in her right knee, mild degenerative hip changes, and mild disc space narrowing at the L5-S1 level of her back with minor disc bulges and mild to moderate central canal stenosis. (Id.)
In January 2011 Trammell was examined by Dr. Levin, a neurosurgeon. (Id. at 454.) He diagnosed her as having cervical radiculopathy, myelopathy, and lumbar spondylosis. (Id.) He noted that straight-leg testing revealed only low back pain and that her range of motion is diminished in her lumbar spine and cervical area. (Id.) Pursuant to his recommendation, Trammell underwent a cervical spine MRI a few days later. (Id. at 455-56.) That test confirmed the spondylosis diagnosis, revealing moderate narrowing at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels, but no spinal stenosis or cord impingement. (Id. at 456.) Based on his review of the MRI results, Dr. Levin recommended that Trammell receive steroid injections and begin physical therapy to help manage her pain. (Id. at 458.)
B. Trammell's Hearing Testimony
At her hearing before the ALJ, Trammell testified that she is disabled by "constant pain" in both knees. (A.R. 41.) Only lying down helps relieve her pain, although she also takes Motrin and Advil for relief. (Id. at 42.) Trammell said that because of her pain, she can only sit for 10 to 12 minutes at a time and stand or walk for only about 5 minutes. (Id. at 34-35.) She testified that her left arm hurts so badly that she is not able to lift anything with it, although she could lift the equivalent of a gallon of milk with her right. (Id. at 36-37.) Trammell said that it is very difficult for her to navigate stairs, so if she has to go to her basement to do laundry, she stays near the machine until it is done. (Id. at 37.) Trammell said that she is able to drive, go ...