United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
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 Nicholas Chrysogelos's ("Claimant" or "Chrysogelos") 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, Chrysogelos's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 19] is denied. The Government's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 25] is granted.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Claimant originally applied for Title II Disability Insurance benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income on June 19, 2006. (R. 314-22.) He alleged disability beginning July 11, 2005. (R. 314.) Claimant identified discogenic and degenerative back problems as his basis for disability. (R. 110.) His claims were denied initially on December 19, 2006, (R. 131, ) and upon reconsideration on May 10, 2007. (R. 137.) Claimant filed a timely request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on September 17, 2008. (R. 82.)
On March 13, 2009, the ALJ found Claimant ineligible for benefits and found him not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 120.) Claimant requested review of the decision by the Social Security Administration Appeals Council, which remanded the case to the ALJ on December 3, 2010, with instructions obtain more evidence and further evaluate his claims. (R. 121-26.) On August 25, 2011, Claimant appeared at a second hearing before the ALJ. (R. 42.) At the hearing, James Breen testified as a vocational expert ("VE") and Dr. Mark Oberlander testified as a medical expert ("ME"). ( Id. )
On November 21, 2011, the ALJ again denied Claimant benefits and found him not disabled. (R.19-31.) The Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review, (R. 1-4, ) leaving the ALJ's second decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security 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
Claimant was born on June 19, 1967. (R. 247.) He is not married and has no children. (R. 43-44.) Claimant worked as a delivery driver from 1982 to 2005. (R. 401.) He claims disability due to back pain resulting from herniated discs, nerve damage, and muscle damage in his back. (R. 393.) The injuries that prevent Claimant from working stem from an on the job accident which occurred on July 11, 2005. ( Id. )
In a physical impairments questionnaire, Claimant reported that he cannot lift any objects over five pounds and cannot reach over his head. (R. 488.) He can walk, but must rest every few minutes. (R. 489.) When he does drive, it is only for a few minutes due to pain. ( Id. ) Claimant cannot sit for more than two hours, and if he is sitting for up to an hour, he has to recline to reduce pain. ( Id. ) Claimant also noted that he has a hard time reading due to dyslexia and that he has difficulty concentrating. (R. 488.)
In his function report, Claimant wrote that he regularly does not leave his bed due to back pain and depression. (R. 479.) His friends and family generally come to his home to help with housework, including cleaning, laundry, cooking, and pet care. (R. 479-82.) Claimant has tried to do yard work, but it was too painful to sustain and he needed several days of bed rest to recover. (R. 482.) He cannot climb or descend stairs. ( Id. ) Claimant typically does not sleep more than three hours a night due to pain and spends most of his day watching television. (R. 480-83.)
Claimant does not drive, except in emergencies. (R. 482.) Typically, his mother will take him to the grocery store and will load and unload food from his car. ( Id. ) Claimant attends church once a month, but does not spend other time socializing. (R. 483.) He visits his therapist twice a month. ( Id. )
B. Testimony and Medical Evidence
1. Claimant's Testimony
During his second hearing before the ALJ, Claimant testified that he is not working and has not worked since his original hearing. (R. 44.) After his accident, he lost 35 or 40 pounds. ( Id. ) Claimant cannot walk more than a quarter-mile. (R. 46.) He can stand for 20 minutes before he has to sit down. ( Id. ) It is painful for Claimant to sit erect for more than 20 to 30 minutes. ( Id. ) He has difficulty carrying objects that weigh more than 15 pounds. ( Id. ) He struggles with climbing stairs, bending, stooping, crouching, and kneeling. (R. 46-47.) He cannot reach over his head and occasionally suffers from pain while using his hands. ( Id. )
Claimant has trouble sleeping more than three and a half hours a night. ( Id. ) He regularly spends most of his day lying down. (R. 47, 58.) Claimant sometimes goes several days without showering because he is unmotivated to get out of bed. (R. 47-48.) He drives once or twice a week to get food or to shop for groceries. (R. 48-49.) His mother typically shops for him and he cannot cook anything beyond simple meals. ( Id. ) He is able to load and unload a dishwasher, make his bed, and care for his cat, but cannot clean or take out the garbage. (R. 48-50.)
Claimant occasionally travels with his family to visit Woodhaven Lake, roughly seventy miles from his home, where he sits by the water and sometimes fishes. (R. 51.) He also belongs to a pool league, but typically only watches his teammates and does not play. (R. 52.) Claimant uses a computer four times a month and uses his cell phone to keep track of appointments. ( Id. ) He has trouble remembering what he reads shortly after he has read it. (R. 58.)
Claimant testified that he sees as "pain doctor" and that he received x-ray and MRI results indicating that he has five herniated discs. (R. 53.) He sees a psychiatrist once a month and a therapist twice a month. ( Id. ) Claimant takes 22 different medications at four different times during the day. (R. 56.) He reports that depression medication has helped with his mental symptoms. (R. 55.) At one point, he attempted to stop taking Xanax, but went through withdrawal symptoms and returned to taking it a short time later. (R. 57.)
2. Medical evidence
On July 27, 2005, Claimant saw Dr. Pavel Huboda for an initial physiatric consultation following the accident which caused his injuries. (R. 634.) During the visit, he complained of back pain, numbness in his left arm during the night, and decreased grip strength in his left hand. ( Id. ) Huboda's impression was that Claimant suffered from an L5-S1 disc protrusion and/or herniation, lumbar radiculopathy, C6 radiculopathy (secondary to disc protrusion), cervical and lumbar myofascial pain syndrome, and mild anxiety. (R. 636.) An MRI taken at GlenOaks Hospital on August 1, 2005 showed a small left lateral disc protrusion at vertebrae C5-C6 with problems at other disc levels. (R. 793.) The MRI notes stated no other abnormalities. ( Id. ) After a follow up appointment on August 30, 2005, Huboda stated that Claimant's condition had improved following a lumbar epidural steroid injection. (R. 637.) During that appointment, "no significant symptoms were reported" by Claimant. ( Id. ) Huboda restated the symptoms from his July 27 notes, adding that Claimant's anxiety was "mild/moderate." (R. 638.)
Claimant received bilateral epidural steroid injections on August 19, September 9, and September 30, 2005. (R. 673.) On October 6, 2005, he saw Dr. Jeffrey Oken for treatment of his continued chronic back pain. (R. 655-58.) Oken's impression was that Claimant had myofascial pain syndrome, anxiety disorder, and radiculopathy at vertebrae C5 and L4-5. (R. 657.) At a follow-up evaluation on November 3, 2005, Oken noted a small left lateral disc protrusion at vertebrae C5-C6 and a lumbar disc protrusion/herniation to the left at vertabrae L5-S1. (R. 659.) Oken designed a chronic pain program for Claimant, including desensitization techniques, core stability work, and other exercises. (R. 752.) Claimant generally complied with the program, but frequently complained of poor sleep and intense pain. (R.746, 748.) December 8, 2005 was the last day of Claimant's pain management with program with Oken. (R. 721.) During this visit, Oken recommended that he join a health club ...