United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.
Plaintiff Ryan Lazier brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423, and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. Lazier has filed for summary judgment. (Dkt. 9.) For the following reasons, the court denies Lazier's motion for summary judgment and affirms the Commissioner's denial of disability insurance benefits and SSI.
I. Work And Medical History
Lazier was born on September 20, 1962, and is 51 years old. (Administrative Record ("R.") 39.) He is single, does not have children, and lives in Western Springs, Illinois, with his father. (R. 39-40.) He attended college but did not obtain a degree. (R. 39.) Prior to 1991, he worked as a pipe maker and a warranty handler. (R. 43-47, 157, 170-72.) Lazier was most recently employed as a senior packer at Magnetrol International, where he worked from 1991 until 2004. (R. 40, 48, 157, 170, 267, 308.) In July 2004, Lazier stopped working as a packer due to a knee injury for which he received worker's compensation. ( Id. ) After the injury, Magnetrol gave him a light duty assignment, but he was terminated in September 2004 for absenteeism. (R. 267, 308.) Lazier reported that he was absent because he had started drinking after a period of sobriety. (R. 267, 308.)
In October 2004, Lazier's mother and brother brought him to the Hinsdale Hospital emergency room for outpatient detoxification because he was addicted to cocaine. (R. 251.) His family reported that he had been having paranoid delusions and suicidal ideation. ( Id. ) When confronted by the emergency room physician, Lazier became combative and attempted escape. (R. 252.) The emergency room physician diagnosed Lazier with paranoid delusions and suicidal ideation and, in consultation with Dr. Ready and Dr. Chandarana, referred him for a psychiatric evaluation. (R. 249-50, 252-53.)
Dr. Chandarana was the first physician to evaluate Lazier's psychological state in October 2004, and she would remain his treating physician for the next several years. Dr. Chandarana diagnosed Lazier with bipolar disorder and cocaine abuse, and observed paranoia. (R. 256.) Dr. Ready also examined Lazier around the same time and noted that he was moderately depressed and somewhat delusional. (R. 258.) Dr. Ready believed that Lazier's condition could be treated in Hinsdale Hospital's New Day Center program, an outpatient and aftercare treatment program for chemical dependency. ( Id. ) Around this time Lazier was prescribed Lexapro, Seroquel, and Carbatrol. (R. 268.)
Lazier entered the New Day Center program in November 2004. (R. 267.) He left after a few days because he had an argument with his then-fiancee over the telephone. ( Id. ) The argument resulted in a physical confrontation between the two, and Lazier was arrested and charged with domestic violence. ( Id. ) Lazier spent three weeks in jail followed by a period of house arrest. ( Id. )
In December 2004, Lazier returned to Hinsdale Hospital and was again examined by Dr. Ready. (R. 267-69.) Dr. Ready diagnosed Lazier with cocaine dependence, alcohol dependence, and bipolar disorder. ( Id. ) He found no evidence of major depression or suicidal ideation, noting that Lazier's affect was appropriate with normal cognitive function, although Lazier appeared easily distracted and somewhat fidgety. (R. 268.) Dr. Ready again admitted Lazier to the New Day Center program, commenting that he appeared motivated for treatment. (R. 268-69.) Dr. Ready also continued Lazier's psychotropic medication, though he noted that Lazier had not taken his medication for the previous three or four days. ( Id. ) Records indicate he made some progress in the New Day Center program but, in March 2005, he suffered a relapse and was discharged from the program after a urine test screened positive for cocaine. (R. 281-83, 284-90, 374.) It appears Lazier thereafter pursued a course of treatment with Dr. Chandarana. (Dkt. 11 at 9.)
After his March 2005 relapse, the record generally indicates that Lazier continued use of his medications and stayed sober and clean. (R. 333-36, 349, 371-72, 376-95, 397-405.) He attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, on a daily basis when possible. (R. 58-59.) In July 2009, Lazier's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor wrote that Lazier had been sober for over a year since a brief relapse in July 2008. (R. 429.)
During this time, Lazier was unemployed but continued to seek employment. (R. 48.) He initially sought shipping and receiving work similar to his prior employment but was unable to find any. (R. 49.) Although Lazier's testimony is not clear on this issue, it appears he stopped looking for work around the time his bipolar symptoms started because he felt unable to work. (R. 49-50.) Dr. Chandarana's notes indicate that he continued looking for a job until at least 2009. ( See, e.g., R. 371.)
II. Lazier's Disability Claim
Lazier applied for SSI and disability insurance benefits in July 2007. (R. 128-32.) He sought benefits commencing on October 15, 2004, the date of discharge from his first hospitalization. (R. 16.) His claim was denied, and he requested reconsideration in January 2008. (R. 95.) His request for reconsideration was denied, and he requested a hearing before the administrative law judge. (R. 96-99, 101-02.) A hearing was held on July 16, 2009. (R.36.)
A. Evidence Of Lazier's Limitations And Activities
At his hearing before Administrative Law Judge Jose Anglada ("the ALJ"), Lazier reported that he is unable to work because of his medical condition. He testified that he suffers from mood swings that cause both episodes of depression and racing thoughts. (R. 56-57.) During the day, racing thoughts prevent Lazier from concentrating. (R. 56-57, 63-65.) These episodes go away by themselves after several hours. (R. 64.) Because of his depression, he often takes a three-hour nap in the middle of the day. (R. 62-63.) At night, Lazier reports that racing thoughts prevent him from sleeping. (R. 57, 65.) He takes Ambien to help him sleep. ( Id. ) Lazier believes he is capable of working part-time (twenty hours per week at most). (R. 63.) He looked for part-time jobs, including construction jobs, but was unable to find any. (R. 63, 384.)
Lazier testified that he is active around the house. He cared for his mother, who had neuropathy, until she passed away in 2006. (R. 65-66, 309.) He cleans the house and rakes the yard, though a landscaper takes care of the bulk of the yard work. (R. 66.) He goes shopping with his father and cooks for his family. (R. 66, 309.) He also does the laundry. (R. 67.)
Outside the house, Lazier has a number of friends through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous whom he usually sees daily. (R. 58-59, 429.) He and his father often eat out at restaurants. (R. 65.) In a 2007 questionnaire, Lazier reported that he enjoys working on cars, and he usually drives once a day, either to visit family or run errands. (R. 182, 309.) Lazier also performs community service but the record is silent as to the nature of the service he performs. Dr. Chandarana's treatment notes, dated May 2007, indicate that Lazier performed 40-45 hours of service per week, though they specified neither the organization for which Lazier worked nor the type of work he performed. (R. 301.)
B. Evidence From Experts
In making his decision, the ALJ relied on the medical conclusions of six doctors and one vocational expert. Dr. Chandarana, M.D., Dr. Brauer, Psy. D., Dr. Heinrich, Ph. D., and Dr. Hudspeth, Psy. D. submitted written medical opinions. Dr. Rozenfeld, Psy. D. and Dr. Biscardi, Ph. D. completed medical ...