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Kujawski v. Colvin

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

June 17, 2014

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


JEFFREY COLE, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Richard Kujawski, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("Agency") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Mr. Kujawski asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.



Mr. Kujawski applied for SSI and DIB on February 26, 2007, alleging that he had become disabled on July 11, 2006, due to depression, diabetes, fatigue, left foot problems, and insomnia. (Administrative Record ("R.") 133-35, 204). His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 61-63, 76-78). Mr. Kujawski continued pursuit of his claim by filing a timely request for a hearing. (R. 79-81).

An administrative law judge ("ALJ") convened a hearing on March 24, 2010, at which Mr. Kujawski, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. 27-60). In addition, Thomas Gusloff testified as a vocational expert. (R. 27). On July 19, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Mr. Kujawski was not entitled to benefits because he would be able to perform a limited range of light work if he ceased substance abuse. (R. 7-26). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Mr. Kujawski's request for review of the decision on January 13, 2012. (R. 1-4). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981. Mr. Kujawski has appealed that decision to the federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).




Mr. Kujawski was born on April 11, 1957, making him fifty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 199). He has a college education. (R. 209). His work history is sporadic. He has had several jobs, ranging from limousine driver to supervisor at a maintenance company, most of which lasted no more than several months. (R. 205). He explains that he gets fried a lot because he is sleepy all the time. (R. 204).


The medical evidence reveals that Mr. Kujawski is an alcoholic of long-standing. For about thirty years, he has been drinking a pint of whisky a day. (R. 406). Both he and the ALJ seem to think the record shows that he has ceased his drinking - Mr. Kujawski says December 2006, the ALJ says March 2007 - but the evidence suggests otherwise. He has been hospitalized for drinking on at least one occasion, in 2006. (R. 369). He has been treated for bipolar disorder and depression, and takes Seroquel, Depakote, and Ambien. (R. 486, 493). He has considered, and claims to have attempted, suicide. (R. 405). From a physical standpoint, Mr. Kujawski also suffers from diabetes, and at the time he was hospitalized due to his alcoholism, he was in diabetic ketoacidosis. (R. 368-69).

Mr. Kujawski's treating physician, Dr. Stec, believes he is disabled as a result of his depression and diabetes. He reported in March 2007, that Mr. Kujawski suffers from diabetic peripheral neuropathy - which, along with osteoarthritis, adversely affects his physical capabilities - and hypoglycemic encephalopathy - which, along with his depression, adversely affects his memory and concentration. (R. 364-65).

A psychiatrist who treated Mr. Kujawski while he was living in New Jersey in December 2007, opined that he was disabled from December 2007 to "Dec 09?" (R. 423) due to bipolar disorder. (R. 425). Oddly, the doctor was completely unaware of Mr. Kujawski's substance abuse. (R. 425). A physician who treated Mr. Kujawski during his stay in New Jersey felt he was disabled for about three months at the end of 2007, but that after that he was medically cleared for employment. (R. 415, 416).

A consulting psychiatrist, who examined Mr. Kujawski in March 2007 in connection with his application for benefits, found him to suffer from bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and personality disorder. (R. 408). His immediate, recent, and remote memory were all somewhat impaired. He did not know how many weeks were in a year or how many nickels were in a dollar. (R. 408). The consulting psychiatrist assigned Mr. Kujawski a global assessment functioning score of 30 (R. 409), indicating that "[b]ehavior is considerably influenced by delusions or hallucinations OR serious impairment, in communication or judgment ( e.g., sometimes incoherent, acts grossly inappropriately, suicidal preoccupation) OR inability to function in almost all areas ( e.g., stays in bed all day, no job, home, or friends)."

Dr. Pittman reviewed Mr. Kujawski's medica records on behalf of the state disability agency in April 2007. (R. 385). He felt that Mr. Kujawski's substance abuse disorder met the listings of impairments. It left him moderately limited in daily activities, markedly limited in social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace, and resulted in one or two extended periods of decompensation. (R. 395). His primary illness was alcoholism, which affected his mood and behavior. His substance abuse disorder was material. (R. 397). Dr. Kravitz conducted another review of the record in April 2009 and parroted Dr. Pittman's conclusions. (R. 433).


At his administrative hearing, Mr. Kujawski testified that he was living in a studio apartment. Until recently, his local township had been subsidizing his living arrangements, but now he was relying on money from friends. (R. 34-35). He said he last tried to work in 2006 or 2007, but couldn't concentrate, and was fired because of it. (R. 35-36). Lack of concentration and loss of memory were his major problems, but he also got angry and was slow. (R. 37). His hands got numb. (R. 49). He could stand for ten minutes before getting numb. (R. 49).

Mr. Kujawski testified that three years ago [2007], he had been drinking on a daily basis. (R. 38). The last time he drank was three months before the hearing (R. 38), or December 2009. Before that, he didn't have a drink for a year. (R. 38). He became somewhat agitated when asked about his attendance at AA meetings. (R. 38-39). He went to what he called open meetings, where he could discuss any subject, once a week. (R. 39-40).

Mr. Kujawski said his medication was not improving his concentration or memory very much. (R. 41). He was unable to concentrate on reading. (R. 42). He said, aside from meetings, he didn't interact with people. (R. 43). He didn't go to restaurants or movies. (R. 46-47). He went to church once a week. (R. 47). Despite taking medication, he didn't sleep well. (R. 44). He didn't dress every day and showered just twice a week. (R. 44). He didn't cook; he made sandwiches and sometimes heated up cups of ...

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