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Robinson v. Colvin

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

May 21, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Delores M. Robinson seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for social security disability benefits under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Ms. Robinson filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to reverse the Commissioner's final decision or remand the case for further consideration. The Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment seeking to affirm its final decision. For the reasons set forth below, Ms. Robinson's motion for summary judgment [dkt. 14] is granted and the Commissioner's motion [dkt. 19] is denied. The matter is remanded to the Commissioner for proceedings consistent with this order.


Ms. Robinson applied for disability benefits on August 10, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on July 31, 2010.[1] Her claim was initially denied on November 24, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on March 2, 2011.[2] On April 1, 2011, Ms. Robinson requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing presided over by ALJ Karen Sayon was held on May 7, 2012 in Orland Park, Illinois.[3] Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 29, 2012, concluding that Ms. Robinson was not disabled under the Act.[4] The Appeals Council denied Ms. Robinson's request to review the ALJ's decision, and thus the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.[5] Ms. Robinson filed this action on March 4, 2013.[6]


The facts set forth in this section are derived from the administrative record. Below is a an overview of Ms. Robinson's background and relevant medical history, followed by a summary of the administrative hearing, and the ALJ's decision.

A. Employment History

Ms. Robinson was born on August 21, 1955, and was fifty-six at the time of the hearing on May 7, 2012.[7] In her application for benefits, Ms. Robinson reported that she most recently worked as a mentor at a mental health center, from October 2009 until the end of July 2010.[8] Prior to that, she worked as a photographer at a holiday picture photo center during the Easter and Christmas holidays of 2009 and 2010.[9] Ms. Robinson also reported that she worked in food preparation and as a cashier at a restaurant from January 2005 until July 2007.[10] From 1999 to 2002, she held four different jobs, beginning with work as a machine feeder at a cardboard company, a transcriptionist for a hospital, a manager at a seasonal kiosk, and as a cashier at a nursery.[11]

B. Medical History

Ms. Robinson suffers from both mental and physical conditions, primarily depression and fibromyalgia.[12] Because Ms. Robinson sees different doctors for each of these conditions, they are discussed separately where possible.

1. Mental Health Conditions

The record before the Court contains medical records of Ms. Robinson's depression dating back to 2004, when she sought treatment at Metropolitan Family Services.[13] These records indicate that Ms. Robinson began experiencing symptoms of depression in 1998 and was first hospitalized for psychiatric reasons in 2000.[14] During her hospitalization in 2000, she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and prescribed Paxil and Prozac.[15] At Metropolitan Family Services, she received therapy from her case manager, Sara Kozera, MHP and received treatment from a series of psychiatrists on a regular basis.[16] The psychiatric progress notes from 2005 to 2010 list major depressive disorder as the ongoing diagnosis.[17] For most of this period, from 2005 to 2008, Ms. Robinson's symptoms were controlled through a daily dosage of 40 milligrams ("mg") of Prozac, and she reported no side effects.[18] In 2008, she reported experiencing muscle pain and decided to switch her depression medication from Prozac to Cymbalta to help with the pain.[19] While taking Cymbalta, she initially appeared stable but reported experiencing weekly crying spells during her February 19, 2009 and March 14, 2009 visits, so her dosage was increased to 90 mg.[20] She appeared stable for over a year at this dosage, but in May of 2010, she again reported increased symptoms of depression and her dosage was increased to 120 mg.[21] By September 1, 2010, she reported increased crying spells, appeared distraught, and was diagnosed with severe depression, resulting in her medication being switched back to Prozac.[22]

In November 2010, Ms. Robinson began seeing Morris A. Blount, M.D. at Metropolitan Family Services.[23] At that time, Ms. Robinson reported feeling like herself on Prozac and Dr. Blount found her to be alert, oriented, cooperative, and coherent.[24] She also began seeing Kristine Fox, LCSW, a therapist at Metropolitan Family Services, who found her to be normal, attentive, and within normal limits in the categories of speech, attention, intellectual function, and thought content.[25] In April 2011, Ms. Robinson went to see Dr. Blount and reported that she was not feeling depressed, and was sleeping well at night.[26] In June 2011, Ms. Robinson filled out a "Consumer Review Form" where she stated that she had developed better coping skills and no longer had suicidal thoughts.[27] Finally, in March 2012, Ms. Robinson saw Dr. Blount and reported feeling okay, sleeping well at night, and not feeling depressed.[28]

2. Physical Health Conditions

For her physical health conditions, Ms. Robinson saw Robert F. Boll, D.O. every three to six months and Cathy Moynihan, a nurse practitioner, every three months.[29] The record contains five physical exam forms from August 2009 to January 2011, each signed by nurse Moynihan.[30] According to these records, on August 25, 2009, Ms. Robinson did not exhibit any physical abnormalities, but reported that she was "crying all the time" while on 60 mg of Cymbalta.[31] On January 26, 2010, Ms. Robinson returned to see nurse Moynihan for a checkup and described her fibromyalgia as "really bad."[32] At her July 19, 2010 visit, Ms. Robinson reported that her glands were bothering her and she appeared to have swollen lymph nodes.[33] On September 1, 2010, Ms. Robinson appeared to have a callus-like structure on her toe.[34] Nurse Moynihan sent her to have a foot x-ray, which revealed a "mild hallux valgus and degenerative changes in the first metatarsophalangeal joint" with no other "significant radiographic abnormalities."[35] On January 26, 2011, Ms. Robinson complained of increased fibromyalgia pain and noted that Cymbalta helped with the pain but also caused increased anxiety and confusion.[36]

In between her July and January visits with nurse Moynihan, Ms. Robinson saw a podiatrist at John Stroger Hospital on October 14, 2010. She described feeling pain in her right toe due to a bunion and indicated that the pain had increased over the past four years.[37] The podiatrist recommended purchasing a "rocker shoe" and suggested that surgery might be necessary in the future.[38]

There are no records of Ms. Robinson's physical condition again until April 2012. At that time, she saw Maya Karam, a nurse practitioner, to get her cholesterol prescription refilled and to discuss the pain in her upper extremities.[39] Ms. Robinson reported that she walked a few times a week and was not feeling depressed.[40] Nurse Karam noted that Ms. Robinson "ambulates without difficulty, [is] alert, [and] in no acute distress."[41]

3. Disability Application Records

The following medical examinations and reports were completed for Ms. Robinson's disability application. On November 10, 2010, Ms. Robinson underwent a psychiatric evaluation with Herman P. Langner, M.D.[42] Ms. Robinson reported that she was chronically sad, cried easily, felt fatigued, spent much of her time in bed, had memory problems, and sometimes heard whispers.[43] Dr. Langner found this information to be reliable.[44] He noted that her affect was flat, her posture and gait were unremarkable, and ultimately rated her global assessment of functioning ("GAF") at 45.[45] On November 19, 2010, psychiatrist Michael J. Schneider, Ph.D. evaluated Ms. Robinson. He noted "mild" limitations in her daily activities, her ability to maintain social functioning, and her ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace.[46]

On November 10, 2010, Ms. Robinson also met with and was examined by Mahesh Shah, M.D.[47] Ms. Robinson reported pain all over her body including her arms, legs, and back. She explained that the pain in her legs was progressively getting worse and that she had to lie down and rest at home for a couple of hours at the end of the day.[48] Dr. Shah observed that Ms. Robinson was able to move around the office without assistance and was able to get on and off the examining table without issue.[49] He concluded that the "examination was fairly ...

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