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Applewhite v. Colvin

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

July 15, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN [1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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For Patricia Applewhite, Plaintiff: Deborah Susan Spector, LEAD ATTORNEY, Joseph Stephen Sellers, Spector & Lenz, P.C., Chicago, IL.

For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Abigail Lynn Peluso, LEAD ATTORNEY, SSA, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.

For Service List, Defendant: United States Attorney General, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL; United States Attorney's Office, Chicago, IL.

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Patricia Applewhite seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner (" Commissioner" ) of the Social Security Administration (" Agency" ) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB" ) under Title II of the Social Security Act (" Act" ). 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(2). Ms. Applewhite asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.



Ms. Applewhite applied for DIB on October 21, 2008, alleging that she had become disabled on January 15, 2008, due to hypertension, diabetes, neuropathy, high cholesterol, and anxiety disorder. (Administrative Record (" R." ) 167-71, 191). Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration (R. 102-03, 106-10, 112-15), and Ms. Applewhite continued pursuit of her claim bye filing a timely request for a hearing. An administrative law judge (" ALJ" ) convened a hearing at which Ms. Applewhite, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. In addition, Dr. Freeman testified as a medical expert and Thomas Dunleavy testified as a vocational expert. (R. 42-101). On February 7, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Applewhite was not disabled because she could perform her past sedentary work as a receptionist. (R. 25-41). The ALJ's decision then became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Ms. Applewhite's request for review of on April 30, 2012. (R. 5-10). See 20 C.F.R. § § 404.955; 404.981. Ms. Applewhite 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).




The Vocational Evidence

Ms. Applewhite was born on December 10, 1955, making her fifty-five years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 250). She has completed two years of community college. (R. 199). Her past work has been generally sedentary or light, and did not require her to lift or carry much weight. (R. 202-205). Most recently, Ms. Applewhite worked as an immunization service coordinator for about 12 years. (R. 192, 201).


The Medical Evidence

Ms. Applewhite points to just few pieces of medical evidence to support her claim for DIB, focusing on reports from a doctor who examined her twice and a doctor who examined her once. (Dkt. # 17, at 2-3). There's not much in the record beyond that. Ms. Applewhite went to the Roseland Neighborhood Health Center in June 2008 to refill her medications. She reported she had lost her job. She had no complaints. Examination was normal aside from her blood pressure, which was elevated at 186/126. She weighed 289 pounds and stood just 5'3" . (R. 366). This was just six months after she claims she became disabled and unable to do any work.

She returned for medication refills in February 2009. She had missed her December

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appointment. (R. 358). She again had no complaints and examination was normal. (R. 358-59). Her next appointment was scheduled for May. (R. 359).

The disability agency arranged for Ms. Applewhite to have a consultative examination with Dr. M. S. Patil on March 2, 2009. (R. 369-72). Ms. Applewhite told Dr. Patil that she was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in 2007, and was taking Lantus for it. She said her accu-check readings were usually within normal limits. She claimed to have lost about 20 pounds during the previous year. She had no complaints of polyuria, chronic infections, or blurry vision. She did have intermittent mild burning sensation in her feet and sometimes had nagging pain in her legs -- she was told it could be neuropathy. Ms. Applewhite added that experience a mild pain in her legs if she walked more than 2-3 blocks or stood for more than 15-20 minutes. She said she had had hypertension for the previous six years, but had never been hospitalized for stroke or heart attack. She claimed to get short of breath if she walked more than three blocks or went up and down stairs. She denied headaches, dizziness, dyspnea at rest, palpitations, or chest pain. (R. 369).

Dr. Patil found that Ms. Applewhite was 63 inches tall and weighed 281 pounds. Her blood pressure was 136/94. She was in no acute distress. Her gait was normal. Her vision, with correction, was 20/25 in each eye. Respiratory examination was normal, as was cardiac examination. Mental status examination showed that Ms. Applewhite's orientation, memory, appearance, and ability to relate during the examination were all entirely within normal limits. (R. 370). Musculoskeletal examination and the neurological examination showed all normal findings. There was a full range of motion in all joints was noted and motor strength was 5/5 in all extremities. There was no sign of muscle wasting or paralysis. Ms. Applewhite's gait was normal, and she was able to walk 50 feet normally without and aiding device.

Dr. Patil's diagnostic impressions included chronic primary hypertension, and he found Ms. Applewhite's diastolic blood pressure was mildly elevated, but she was in no acute cardiopulmonary distress. There was no evidence of congestive heart failure, cerebral vascular accident, PTE, DVT or malignant arrhythmia's. His diagnostic impression also included diabetes mellitus but he noted no chronic foot ulcers, gangrene, or localized neurovascular deficits. Ms. Applewhite had been on oral hypoglycemic and insulin since 2007, but her history was negative for seizures, coma, ophthalmic, or amputation surgery. Dr. Patil found she was extremely obese, but it did not affect her gait or dexterity. Her range of motion was normal, and there was swelling, tenderness, or redness of any joint. (R. 371). Although there was a reported history of anxiety disorder, Dr. Patil found Ms. Applewhite's mental status normal. She denied any past inpatient psychiatric care, and she was not on psychotropic medications. (R. 372).

On March 4, 2009, Dr. Francis Vincent reviewed the medical record on behalf of the disability agency. (R. 373-80). He felt Ms. Applewhite could frequently lift 10 pounds, occasionally lift 20 pounds, stand or walk for 6 hours in and 8-hour workday, and sit for 6 hours as well. (R. 374). She could occasionally climb stairs or ramps, but never climb ropes or scaffolds. (R. 375). That same day, Kirk Boyenga, Ph.D., reviewed the filed and found there was no severe mental impairment present. (R. 381, 393). These findings were later confirmed by two additional reviewers in June 2009. (R. 395-97).

On November 5, 2009, Ms. Applewhite sought medication refills at Provident Hospital.

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(R. 410-12). She had no chest pain or shortness of breath. Her blood pressure was 140/97. Her lungs were clear to auscultation bilaterally. (R. 410). She was alert and oriented times 3. (R. 410, 412). Ms. Applewhite returned on February 25, 2010. (R. 405-06). She needed a disability form filled out and complained of insomnia, muscle spasm, back pain, and feeling sad most of the time. She was not taking her Metformin due to side effects. The doctor listed her problems as: hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, chronic sinusitis, tobacco use disorder, and chronic low back pain. Her medications were Metformin and Lantus. Dr. Tinfang's notes state that Ms. Applewhite was alert, morbidly obese, in no apparent distress, and cooperative. (R. 405). Range of lumbar motion was limited by pain, but straight leg raising was negative and strength was normal in all extremities. Dr. Tinfang prescribed Fluoxetine (Prozac) for depression. She told Ms. Applewhite to take her Metformin with food to avoid side effects. She told her to avoid fatty foods, recommended healthy weight habits and counseled her to stop smoking. (R. 406).

That same day, February 25th, Dr. Tinfang filled out a form provided by Ms. Applewhite's attorney. He reported that he had seen her just twice, and noted complaints of back pain and depressive mood. She checked " constantly" in response to how often Ms. Applewhite's symptoms would affect her concentration. She noted that Ms. Applewhite complained that one of her medications, Metformin upset her stomach. Dr. Tinfang checked " yes" in response to whether his patient would have to lie down more than three times in a work day. He said she could walk no more than ½ a block. She could sit for less than 30 minutes at a time and stand for no more than 10 minutes at a time. Yet, at the same time, she could sit for 8 hours " or less" in an 8-hour workday but not stand at all. She would have to take a 10-minute breaks every 15 to 20 minutes. (R. 509). She could lift less than 10 pounds occasionally. She could use her ...

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