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Smagala v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 31, 2014

CAROLYN COLVIN, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


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 Gerard Smagala's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. 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, Smagala's motion for summary judgment is denied, and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 28] is granted.



Smagala applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on October 22, 2008, alleging a disability due to borderline intellectual functioning and low IQ since July 1, 2004. (R. 10, 181-90.) The applications were denied on March 13, 2009 and upon reconsideration on June 22, 2009. ( Id. ) Smagala filed a timely request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on September 15, 2010.[2] ( Id. ) Smagala, who was not represented by counsel, personally appeared and testified at the hearing. (R. 10, 35-107.) A medical expert and a vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (R. 10.)

On March 16, 2011, the ALJ denied Smagala's claim for benefits and found him not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 7-20.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Smagala's request for review on April 26, 2012, (R. 4-6), 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).


A. Background

Smagala was born on July 12, 1957, and was fifty-three years old at the time of the ALJ hearing. (R. 49.) Smagala lives alone in a studio apartment. (R. 15, 55.) He graduated from high school but was a C student. (R. 65, 92.) Smagala was previously employed in a number of different jobs, including roofer, laborer, packager, order picker, forklift driver, and material handler. (R. 49-86-95, 202-04, 210-12.) He also received Social Security benefits from 1995 to 2008. (R. 10 n.1, 24, 44.)

B. Testimony and Medical Evidence

1. Smagala's Testimony

Smagala testified that he had a nervous breakdown in approximately 1999, after he was divorced, his mother passed away, and he had to care for his blind father, who was on dialysis. (R. 42-43.) He was hospitalized at the time for two to three weeks, and then he was recommended to Foxfire day treatment center, where he went for counseling and treatment over a period of two or three years until 2000. (R. 58-60.) He was on medication, including Lithium and briefly Zoloft, but he experienced side effects from Zoloft. (R. 60.) He states that he was diagnosed with manic depression at Foxfire before his alleged onset date of July 1, 2004. (R. 61.) From July 2004 until the time of the hearing, he had not received treatment or medication for any mental health issues, and he only saw a psychiatrist for evaluations. (R. 61-63, 69.) Smagala testified that although he had access to doctors through Medicare from 2004 to 2008, he did not feel the need to see anyone. (R. 63-64.) He said that he was gradually taken off of Lithium while at Foxfire because he was doing well and was "balanced out." (R. 63.)

Smagala stated that he left most of the jobs he had over the years for various reasons, but he never had difficulty working with supervisors and co-workers and generally has an easygoing personality and did as he was told. (R. 43-44.) He did not return to work as a roofer because he found out he would first need to pay back dues to the union, and he had only applied for a couple of other jobs, at Jewel and the YMCA. (R. 64-65.) Smagala also did not pursue job placement through any state agency. (R. 66.) He explained that he did not look for work very much because he did not think anyone would hire him due to his age and work experience. (R. 65-66, 101.) He is not entirely sure what prevents him from working, and he does not know why he quit various jobs. (R. 68.)

He testified that he applied for Social Security when his prior receipt of benefits was stopped after determination that he had been overpaid funds because he engaged in substantial gainful employment.[3] (R. 10 n.1, 45-47.) Smagala stated that he did not actually receive many of those funds, because they were misused by his sister or brother, who were his payees at the time. (R. 45-47, 70-72.)

Smagala does his own grocery shopping and also gets food from a church pantry in exchange for helping set up and distribute the food. (R. 56-57.) He is able to drive but does not currently own a car, although he occasionally borrows a car from a friend. (R. 55-57.) He also walks, rides his bike, and takes public transportation. (R. 57.) He is able to read the newspaper, he filled out all of the Social Security paperwork by himself, and he can read and understand an application. (R. 67-68.)

2. Medical Evidence

a. Susan Frederiksen, M.D.

Dr. Frederiksen completed a psychiatric consultative examination ("CE") report after a thirty-five minute interview on July 18, 2002, eight days after the death of Smagala's father. (R. 310-12.) She noted that Smagala was a limited historian, had a "perplexed air about him, " was anxious, and did not have spontaneous speech. He found it difficult to express his thoughts and would give uncertain tentative responses.

She concluded that it was difficult to make a diagnosis due to the limited amount of information available, but opined that chronic schizophrenia with predominant negative symptoms was possible. Dr. Frederiksen also found that Smagala seemed to have avoidant, schizoid, dependent features in his personality. His ability to maintain attention and concentration was moderately impaired, and his ability to comprehend instructions was intact but limited to concrete tasks. Smagala's ability to initiate, sustain, and complete tasks in a competitive work environment appeared to be moderately to ...

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