United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.
Bivian Tate seeks disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and supplemental security income ("SSI"), id. §§ 1382, 1382c(a)(3)(A), based on her claim that she is unable to work because she suffers from disabling depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia. After the Commissioner of Social Security denied her applications, Tate brought this suit seeking this court's review of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Tate's motion for summary judgment is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted:
On April 21, 2008, Tate filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI, claiming a disability onset date of April 9, 2008. (Administrative Record "A.R." 16, 79-87.) After her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 34-38), Tate requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On January 6, 2011, the assigned ALJ denied Tate's applications for DIB and SSI. (Id. at 31.) When the Appeals Council denied Tate's request for review, (id. at 6-8), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). On September 27, 2012, Tate filed the current suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
In 2008, when Tate was 49 years old, she stopped working as an overnight stock clerk at a department store. According to Tate, she stopped working because she was experiencing numbness and tingling on the left side of her body and her hands and arms were "giving out" on her, making it impossible for her to do things like lift and unload packages. (A.R. 449-50.) Tate claims that based on a combination of those physical symptoms and her depression, she is no longer able to work in any capacity. At her hearing before the ALJ, Tate presented both documentary and testimonial evidence in support of her claims.
A. Medical Evidence
In April 2008 Tate reported to the emergency room at the John H. Stroger Hospital in Chicago complaining of left-side facial numbness and occasional dizziness and light-headedness. (A.R. 340, 343.) A CT scan of her head revealed "no definite abnormalities, " (id. at 338), but Tate was admitted overnight for observation. Dr. Vijaiganesh Nagarajan examined Tate but determined that there was no "clear organic cause" for her complaints. (Id. at 336.) Dr. Nagarajan described Tate as being very anxious and wrote that her history was "very inconsistent." (Id.) He noted that Tate was under a lot of financial and family stress and opined that her condition was likely attributable to somatoform disorder. (Id.) Resident physician Dr. Shailendra Sharma also described Tate as providing a "[v]ery inconsistent history, " noting that she "keeps changing her story." (Id. at 346.) Dr. Sharma wrote that "[d]espite plenty of subjective complaints my exam revealed no clear objective neurologic findings." (Id.) She described Tate's symptoms as "[a]natomically inconsistent and changing." (Id.) Dr. Sharma noted that Tate reported being under a lot of personal stress, and that admission combined with the lack of objective explanation for her condition led her to recommend that Tate be evaluated by a psychiatrist on an outpatient basis. (Id.) Attending physician Dr. John O'Brien also examined Tate and noted that her motor strength was at 5/5 in all extremities and although she complained of decreased grip strength, "she does not drop anything." (Id. at 352-53.) He wrote that Tate "is not depressed but under a great deal of stress." (Id. at 353.)
In May 2008 Tate returned to Stroger for a follow-up examination with Dr. Nagarajan. He noted that she was taking Tramadol and acetaminophen for her pain and described her as again providing a "very inconsistent history." (Id. at 333.) Dr. Nagarajan wrote that Tate reported that her symptoms had not improved but that she did not have any "new problems." (Id.) Dr. Nagarajan examined Tate and reported that she was "[n]ot actively holding fingers tight on left side when requested, " but that she was "[u]sing her left arm to push up and sit in examination table." (Id. at 334.) Dr. Nagarajan concluded that her multiple neurological symptoms were not "fitting with any anatomical diagnosis" and were likely attributable to a somatoform disorder. (Id.) Accordingly, he recommended that Tate see a psychiatrist. (Id.)
In July 2008 Tate was evaluated by consulting psychiatrist Dr. Sharon Kobak in connection with her disability claim. (Id. at 378.) Tate told Dr. Kobak that she was experiencing depression at a level of 9/10, that she had crying spells, and that she felt jittery and overwhelmed. (Id. at 379-80.) Dr. Kobak conducted a number of tests to evaluate Tate's sensorium and mental capacity. Tate was able to recall four digits forward correctly but stated that she could not concentrate enough to recall digits backwards. (Id. at 380.) Tate said there are five weeks in a year and could only name three large cities in the United States. (Id.) She made mistakes calculating serial threes. (Id.) Dr. Kobak concluded that Tate is "very depressed" and "overwhelmed with family problems and health issues." (Id. at 381.)
The following month Dr. Nagarajan again evaluated Tate, noting that she was under a lot of stress because of family problems and a lack of income. (Id. at 372-73.) He noted that she was wearing a left wrist splint and wanted him to further investigate what she reported as a prior diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id. at 373.) Dr. Nagarajan wrote that she was complaining of left finger numbness but that the "sensory deficit" does not "correspond to any nerve territories." (Id. at 373.) He also noted that although his office had booked a psychiatry appointment for Tate, she had not attended the appointment. (Id.) Dr. Nagarajan wrote that he would arrange for nerve conduction studies, (id), and in the fall of 2008 Tate underwent an EMG study of her left hand, (id. at 384). The doctor performing the study reported that there was no evidence of nerve entrapment or cervical radiculopathy. (Id.)
On January 16, 2009, two state doctors examined Tate in connection with her disability claim. Dr. Edmond Yomtoob performed a psychiatric evaluation and reported that she "appeared to be, at the very least, exaggerating some of her symptoms." (Id. at 401.) When he asked if she had experienced abuse in the past, Dr. Yomtoob noted that Tate paused and "it appear[ed] that she was generating stories at the time." (Id.) Dr. Yomtoob wrote that Tate "was well mannered and forthcoming throughout the interview, " but said that at "times she was overly elaborative in her responses and [it] appeared that she was exaggerating information." (Id. at 402.) He noted that she did not appear "to be working to the best of her ability" when asked to perform calculations, and that it was unclear whether she understood the directions for performing serial threes and sevens because instead she "simply counted backwards from 100 or 20." (Id.) Dr. Yomtoob concluded that Tate suffered from depression, but it appeared to him that she was exaggerating some of her symptoms. (Id. at 403.)
Dr. Fauzia Rana examined Tate and evaluated her physical condition. During the examination Tate complained of pain in her back, joints, and muscles throughout her body, said that she has difficulty raising her arms or bending down, and described trouble sitting or standing for more than 10 minutes at a time. (Id. at 404.) She also complained of difficulty gripping and a tingling sensation in her hands. (Id.) Upon examining Tate Dr. Rana noted that she displayed normal muscle strength and a full range of motion in her upper and lower extremities. (Id. at 406.) She wrote that Tate's grip strength was strong and equal bilaterally. (Id.) She observed that Tate had no difficulty squatting and arising, walking on her toes and heels, or getting on or off the exam table. (Id. at 407.) Accordingly, she wrote that Tate "is able to sit, stand and walk, lift, carry and handle objects." (Id.)
The medical evidence also includes residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessments submitted by Dr. Nagarajan and Dr. Gartel, a psychiatrist. (Id. at 203, 207, 429.) At the bottom of Dr. Nagarajan's RFC he wrote "Form filled in as patient requested to fill it up for her." (Id. at 207.) He described her diagnoses as multiple neurological complaints, back pain, and a history of fibromyalgia, and wrote that depression and anxiety impact her physical condition. (Id.) Dr. Nagarajan opined that her symptoms would occasionally interfere with her attention and concentration and checked boxes indicating that she can sit, stand, or walk for about two hours in an eight-hour work day. (Id. at 208.) He checked a box saying that Tate has ...