United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted [dkt. 12]. We remand to re-examine the treating physician's opinion using the factors set forth in 20 U.S.C. § 404.1527. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied [dkt. 19].
Plaintiff David Turkyilmaz appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying him Social Security disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. After careful review of the record, the Court now remands the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Plaintiff was injured at work in 2007 when a garage door fell on his head. As a result, he suffered a disc herniation at C5-C6. He developed radicular symptoms, and underwent a discectomy and anterior cervical fusion on February 17, 2009. Since the surgery, plaintiff has reported an increase in pain in his neck and lower extremities, numbness in his hands and face, and headaches.
Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability benefits in 2010, alleging disability beginning August 1, 2008. His claim was denied twice, and a hearing was held on February 28, 2012. The ALJ found on April 2, 2012 that plaintiff had a severe impairment due to cervical radiculopathy and obesity, but this impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. In her determination of the plaintiff's Residual Functioning Capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments constrained him to sedentary work with limitations, including the need to take frequent breaks and change position. The ALJ found no manipulative limitations.
The ALJ used the required five-step procedure to determine the plaintiff's eligibility for benefits: (1) was the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) does the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe; (3) does the claimant's impairment(s) meet or medically equal a listed impairment; (4) can the claimant perform past relevant work with his impairment(s); (5) are there any viable jobs the claimant can perform considering his impairment(s)?
To make her decision regarding the plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ gave "significant weight" to the testimony of Hilda Martin, M.D. Dr. Martin was a State Agency physician retained by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") to give expert testimony at plaintiff's hearing. Dr. Martin did not treat or examine plaintiff at any point, but was familiar with the Social Security Regulations and was able to review the entire record. She opined that, while plaintiff complained of numbness in his hands, there was no objective medical evidence that the numbness had any appreciable impact on the use of his hands. She also opined that plaintiff's different performances during two closely-scheduled examinations of his neck, one of which was a consultative examination for the purposes of the benefits determination, suggested pain magnification. The ALJ relied on these opinions in her determination.
The ALJ also relied on the opinions of reviewing State physicians and a physical therapist-giving them "some weight"-both of whom believed plaintiff was capable of performing some level of work. Specifically, Kern Singh, M.D., a spine surgeon, examined plaintiff for a worker's compensation claim on May 3, 2010,  and a team of physical therapists who, after the work incident, conducted post-fusion surgery physical therapy with plaintiff.
The ALJ gave "no controlling weight or great weight" to Michael Zindrick, M.D., plaintiff's treating physician since 2008. Since August 18, 2010, Dr. Zindrick has repeatedly offered the opinion that plaintiff was and is permanently disabled and thus unable to work. The ALJ explained that Dr. Zindrick's opinion was "extreme, " in conflict with the other medical testimony, and inconsistent with the record.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Review by this Court of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court uses a deferential standard of review,  and may not reconsider evidence, nor make any independent credibility determination. There must be a "logical bridge" between the facts of record and the ALJ's conclusion. However, reversal is not warranted simply because reasonable minds may disagree on the correct interpretation of the evidence. The ALJ's determination will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and reversal on the facts is only warranted ...