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Parker v. Colvin

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

May 12, 2014

DONNA S. PARKER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.

For the reasons outlined in the attached Order, Ms. Parker's motion for summary judgment for reversal or remand [dkt. 17] is denied.


Plaintiff, Donna S. Parker, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and for supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Ms. Parker has filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to reverse the Commissioner's final decision or remand the case for consideration of the issues raised herein. For the reasons set forth below, Ms. Parker's motion for summary judgment reversal or remand is denied [dkt. 17].

I. Procedural History

Ms. Parker filed concurrent applications for a period of disability and DIB and for SSI on March 9, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on February 6, 2008.[1] Her claim was denied initially on June 18, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on September 21, 2010.[2] On September 24, 2010, Ms. Parker submitted a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").[3] A hearing presided over by ALJ Patricia A. Bucci was held on June 20, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.[4] Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on August 11, 2011, concluding that Ms. Parker has been disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 11614(a)(3)(A) of the Act beginning on December 7, 2010.[5] The Appeals Council denied Ms. Parker's request to review the ALJ's denial of DIB and SSI for the period between her alleged disability onset date on February 6, 2008 and December 7, 2010, thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.[6] Ms. Parker filed the instant action on January 7, 2013.

II. Factual Background

The facts set forth under this section are derived from the administrative record. We begin with an overview of Ms. Parker's background and relevant medical history. We then summarize the testimony given at the ALJ hearing before finally examining the ALJ's decision. We focus particularly on the period for which the ALJ denied DIB and SSI to Ms. Parker, between February 6, 2008 and December 7, 2010.

A. Ms. Parker's Background and Relevant Medical History

Ms. Parker was born December 8, 1960.[7] She was forty-nine years old when she applied for DIB and SSI.[8] In her Adult Disability Report, Ms. Parker listed arthritis in her hands, legs and knees, and degenerative joint disease in her knees as limiting her ability to work because she is in constant pain and cannot stand, walk or sit for very long.[9] She further noted that she has suffered from mild and intermittent asthma since 2005, although she has never been hospitalized because of it.[10] Ms. Parker is divorced with no minor children.[11] She stands 5'5" and weighs approximately 230 pounds, which corresponds to a body mass index (BMI) of 38.3 and a categorization of Level II obesity.[12] Ms. Parker claims that her knee pain stems from a slip and fall she suffered at work in January 2004.[13]

Because of her medical conditions, Ms. Parker stopped working on February 6, 2008, the alleged date of onset of her disability.[14] Ms. Parker partially completed the tenth grade but did not obtain her GED.[15] Her recent employment history includes working as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service from October 1994 until November 2008.[16] Ms. Parker testified that her knee gave out in February 2008, which made her unable to complete her mail route.[17] She received workers' compensation benefits from February 2008 until October 2008.[18] Numerous healthcare professionals treated Ms. Parker during the relevant time period, therefore, our review will be configured according to her treatment providers.

1. Harold Pye, M.D.

Ms. Parker was under the care of Harold Pye, M.D. from January 31, 2008 until October 31, 2008.[19] On February 7, 2008, Dr. Pye ordered a magnetic resonance imaging scan ("MRI") of her right knee and an X-Ray of both of her knees.[20] The left-knee X-Ray indicated mild to moderate osteoarthritis, [21] which is the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone.[22] The right-knee MRI revealed moderate to severe osteoarthritis and two tears: a bucket-handle type tear of her medial meniscus (inner knee) and a likely chronic partial tear of her anterior cruciate ligament ("ACL").[23] Dr. Pye recommended physical therapy and referred Ms. Parker to J. Michael Morgenstern, M.D. for an orthopedic consultation.[24] Ms. Parker received three Synvisc Hylan injections in her right knee between June 2008 and August 2008.[25]

On June 20, 2008, Ms. Parker had both an MRI and an X-Ray performed on her lumbar spine for low back pain.[26] The tests revealed mild to moderate degenerative disc changes and mild lumbar spinal stenosis, [27] a narrowing of the lumbar spinal canal that puts pressure on the spinal cord or sciatic nerve roots.[28] Ms. Parker was referred for physical therapy and acupuncture therapy.[29] On October 8, 2008, eight months after her alleged onset date of disability, Dr. Pye released Ms. Parker to return to work the following day with "mainly sedentary duties."[30]

2. J. Michael Morgenstern, M.D.

Dr. Morgenstern saw Ms. Parker on February 22, 2008 for an orthopedic consultation.[31] Dr. Morgenstern recommended a surgical arthroscopy, a common procedure involving viewing the joint with a small camera to diagnose and treat knee problems, [32] of Ms. Parker's right knee.[33] On March 6, 2008, Dr. Morgenstern performed an ACL repair surgery on Ms. Parker's right knee.[34] Ms. Parker continued to see Dr. Morgenstern for follow-up visits between March 2008 and August 2008.[35] During these visits Dr. Morgenstern recommended that Ms. Parker participate in right-knee physical therapy and use ice and anti-inflammatories to help with pain and swelling.[36]

3. Provident and Stroger Hospitals

Ms. Parker received no medical treatment between October 2008 and January 2010. In early January 2010, Ms. Parker visited Provident Hospital of Cook County ("Provident") with complaints of a cold, coughing, and wheezing.[37] Ms. Parker did not complain of knee pain to Provident until early February 2010.[38]

On February 18, 2010, Matthew Sisk, M.D. John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County ("Stroger") attended to Ms. Parker.[39] Dr. Sisk ordered an X-Ray of her left knee, prescribed Ibuprofen and a cane, but ultimately discharged her only with instructions to follow up in one to two weeks.[40]

4. Mahesh Shah, M.D.

On May 19, 2010, Mahesh Shah, M.D. completed a consultative examination for the Bureau of Disability Determination Services.[41] Dr. Shah noted that Ms. Parker had 100 degree flexion and full extension in both knees.[42] Dr. Shah further noted that Ms. Parker had tenderness surrounding both of her knees, she was able to bear her own weight and did not use any assisting devices for ambulation but her gait was slow, she was able to heel-walk and toe-walk with only some discomfort, and she was unable to squat down.[43] Dr. Shah found Ms. Parker's arthritis to be particularly worse in her left knee.[44]

5. Frank Jimenez, M.D.

Frank Jimenez, M.D., a state medical consultant, conducted a physical residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment on June 9, 2010.[45] Dr. Jimenez determined that Ms. Parker could occasionally lift up to twenty pounds; frequently lift up to ten pounds; stand or walk with normal breaks for at least two hours in a normal workday; sit with normal breaks for about six hours in a normal eight-hour workday; and perform unlimited pushing and pulling.[46] He further noted that Ms. Parker could only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl due to her arthritis.[47] Dr. Jimenez documented that Ms. Parker should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation, due to her history of mild asthma.[48]

6. Virgilio Pilapil, M.D.

On September 17, 2010, Virgilio Pilapil, M.D., a state medical consultant, reconsidered Ms. Parker's initial RFC.[49] Dr. Pilapil concluded that because Ms. Parker alleged no worsening of her conditions, claimed only allegations that were already included in the initial assessment, and showed no significant differences in findings from the original claim, the prior sedentary RFC decision should stand.[50]

7. Chantal Tinfang, M.D.

Ms. Parker first saw Provident physician Chantal Tinfang, M.D. in April 2010 for a check-up with complaints of bilateral knee and low back pain.[51] On July 7, 2010, Ms. Parker returned to see Dr. Tinfang for a follow-up visit, again complaining of bilateral knee pain.[52] An X-Ray revealed degenerative changes in ...

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