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Jones v. Colvin

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

July 15, 2014

MARCUS JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER[1]

SIDNEY I. SCHENKIER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Marcus Jones moves to reverse or remand the final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") (doc. #19). The Commissioner has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, seeking affirmance of the decision (doc. #30).[2] For the reasons set forth below, we grant the Commissioner's motion and deny Mr. Jones's motion.

I.

On April 22, 2010, at the age of 35, Mr. Jones applied for SSI and DIB, alleging a disability onset date of March 1, 2010 (R. 126-32). His last-insured date was September 30, 2010 (R. 170). Mr. Jones's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on September 8, 2011 (R. 41). In a written opinion issued on September 22, 2011, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Jones was not disabled and denied benefits (R. 34). The Appeals Council denied Mr. Jones's request for review of the ALJ's decision (R. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.981; Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 695 (7th Cir. 2012).

II.

We begin with a summary of the administrative record. We review Mr. Jones's medical record in Part A; the hearing testimony in Part B; and the ALJ's written opinion in Part C.

A.

Prior to his alleged onset date of March 1, 2010, Mr. Jones had sought treatment between July 2006 and December 2007 from an internist, Dr. Frances Norlock, D.O., for sarcoidosis;[3] diminished and cloudy vision; left-sided numbness, weakness, and imbalance; severe headaches; abdominal pain; shortness of breath; pancreatitis; and alcohol hepatitis (inflamed liver) (R. 228-31, 237-38). At those visits, Dr. Norlock prescribed medication for pain and nausea, and advised Mr. Jones to stop drinking beer ( Id. ). A CT scan and MRI from October 2007 showed no evidence of active neurosarcoidosis, and Mr. Jones's cranial nerves were intact except for slight lateral nystagmus (involuntary, rapid eye movement) (R. 229, 257-59).[4] Dr. Norlock recommended that Mr. Jones see a neurologist to rule out meningeal sarcoidosis, visit an eye doctor to address his uveitis (swelling of the uvea), continue taking Prednisone for sarcoidosis, and obtain pulmonary function tests (R. 229).

The medical record contains no treatment records for the next two and one-half years, until Mr. Jones returned to Dr. Norlock on June 21, 2010 (more than three months after his alleged onset date). During that visit, Mr. Jones complained of sarcoidosis, uveitis (including black spots in his right eye), shortness of breath when walking less than one block, weakness below the knees, night chills and sweats, and stomach pain (R. 279). During a physical examination, Dr. Norlock found crepitus (a grating or crackling sound or sensation) bilaterally in Mr. Jones's knees, but no joint line tenderness or swelling (R. 280). Dr. Norlock restarted Mr. Jones on Prednisone for his sarcoidosis and referred him for pulmonary function tests, chest and knee x-rays, and an eye examination (R. 279-80).

On that date, Dr. Norlock also prepared a Pulmonary Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Questionnaire. She listed his impairments as sarcoidosis (diagnosed in August 2003), uveitis of the left eye, gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), and bilateral knee pain (R. 282). Dr. Norlock wrote that Mr. Jones suffered acute sarcoid attacks from exposure to irritants, allergens, and weather changes, which caused him shortness of breath, chest tightness, fatigue, and frequent coughing episodes resulting in coughing up blood ( Id. ). She noted that Mr. Jones's symptoms would frequently interfere with his attention and concentration and cause him constant fatigue (R. 283). Nevertheless, Dr. Norlock stated that Mr. Jones was capable of low-stress jobs, and his prognosis was fair ( Id. ).

Dr. Norlock further opined that Mr. Jones could continuously sit for forty minutes at a time, continuously stand for five to ten minutes at a time, and sit for about two hours total and stand/walk for less than two hours total in an eight-hour working day (R. 284). In addition, she wrote that Mr. Jones would need to take unscheduled breaks every twenty to thirty minutes for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, could occasionally carry a maximum of ten pounds, and should avoid exposure to environmental irritants (R. 284-85). Dr. Norlock indicated that Mr. Jones's impairments would likely produce good days and bad days, and likely cause him to miss work more than four times a month (R. 285).

Mr. Jones continued to complain of shortness of breath in July and August 2010. Pulmonary function tests showed only a mild reduction in lung capacity, though this was a significant reduction from his previous testing in January 2004 (R. 291, 298, 338, 347).

On August 18, 2010, state agency consulting physician Charles Carlton, M.D., examined and assessed Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones reported suffering weakness and pain in his right knee, and Dr. Carlton observed that he tended to avoid complete weight-bearing on the right leg, displayed some difficulty rising to a standing position and walking on toes and heels, and displayed 4/5 motor weakness in right hip flexors and right knee extensors; nonetheless, Mr. Jones otherwise could sit, stand, and walk without assistance (R. 291-93). Dr. Carlton observed loss of muscle mass and scarring in Mr. Jones's right thigh, and an x-ray showed abnormalities in the bones and soft tissue of the right knee (R. 291, 302).[5] Regarding Mr. Jones's vision, Dr. Carlton measured 20/50 corrected in the right eye, but worse than 20/200 corrected vision in the left eye (R. 297). Dr. Carlton concluded that Mr. Jones could lift up to twenty pounds, and sit, stand, and walk greater than fifty feet without assistance (R. 292).

On August 31, 2010, state agency medical consultant Towfig Arjmand, M.D., reviewed Mr. Jones's medical records and prepared a Physical RFC Assessment (R. 303). He opined that Mr. Jones could lift and/or carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for a total of two hours and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; had a limited ability to push and/or pull in the lower extremities; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, and hazards (R. 304-05, 307). Dr. Arjmand also found that Mr. Jones had no manipulative limitations, but had visual limitations as to far acuity, depth perception, and field of vision (R. 306).

Dr. Arjmand explained that his opinion differed from Dr. Norlock's June 21, 2010 opinion because Dr. Norlock's opinion preceded the August 2010 pulmonary function testing which showed that Mr. Jones's pulmonary functional limitations were not of listing level and were not as severe as Dr. Norlock opined (R. 309). In addition, Dr. Arjmand stated that Mr. Jones's bilateral knee pain was not as functionally limiting as Dr. Norlock concluded because the consultative examiner (Dr. Carlton) opined that despite objective evidence of right knee pain, Mr. Jones could still lift, carry, stand, and walk with only some difficulties due to right leg weakness ( Id. ). Dr. Arjmand gave only partial weight to Dr. Norlock and Dr. Carlton ( Id. ).

On September 28, 2010, Mr. Jones had his first eye examination since 2003 (R. 337). Mr. Jones was diagnosed with sarcoid uveitis in both eyes, and was prescribed steroid eye drops ( Id. ). On October 7 and 21, 2010, Mr. Jones's sarcoid uveitis (greater in the left eye than the right) was much improved, and on November 4, 2010, Mr. Jones denied having any pain or blurry vision, and said that he no longer saw black spots (R. 334-36). On October 28, 2010, Mr. Jones also visited a pulmonologist, Swamy Nagubadi, M.D., complaining of a mild, dry cough and shortness of breath (R. 326). The results of Mr. Nagubadi's physical examinations, including respiratory, were normal ( Id. ). Considering this new evidence, on November 23, 2010, ...


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