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Riley v. Colvin

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

July 24, 2014

JOHN M. RILEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.

John M. Riley suffers from gout, bipolar disorder, and other impairments. He filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). An administrative law judge ("ALJ") awarded Riley SSI benefits beginning on his 50th birthday but denied his application for DIB. (Administrative Record "(A.R.)" 11-19.) After the Appeals Council declined to review the decision, Riley filed this suit seeking judicial review of the decision to the extent that it denied DIB. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before the court is Riley's motion for summary judgment seeking partial reversal of the Commissioner's decision and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Riley's motion is granted to the extent that the matter is remanded for further proceedings and the Commissioner's motion is denied:

Procedural History

Riley first filed an application for DIB on June 6, 2007. (A.R. 11.) An ALJ denied that application on June 16, 2009. (Id.) Riley then filed a second application for DIB and SSI on May 25, 2010, renewing his claim that he became unable to work on October 31, 2005. (Id. at 137-42.) After his claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 61-64), Riley sought and was granted a hearing before another ALJ, (id. at 92-97). The ALJ held a hearing on June 14, 2011, at which Riley and a vocational expert provided testimony. (Id. at 26-60.) On October 6, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that: (1) Riley was not disabled within the meaning of the Act as of December 30, 2010, the last date of his insured status, and thus was not entitled to DIB; and (2) Riley was disabled under § 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act beginning on July 18, 2011, his 50th birthday, and was therefore entitled to SSI benefits as of that date. (A.R. 11-19.) When the Appeals Council denied Riley's request for review of the ALJ's denial of DIB, (id. at 135), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010). On June 3, 2012, Riley filed the current suit seeking judicial review of the adverse portion of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


Riley worked for about 20 years in warehouses, performing job duties that included loading and unloading trucks. (A.R. 30-32, 52.) He stopped working in November 2008 because of his impairments. (Id. at 197.) He claims that he is unable to work because he suffers from gout, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. (Id. at 72, 85, 86.) At his June 2011 hearing, Riley presented both documentary and testimonial evidence in support of his claim.

A. Medical Evidence

Riley's medical records show that he was diagnosed with acute gout in November 2005. (A.R. 281.) He was under the treatment of Dr. Paul Baubly from November 2005 through February 2007 for gout, alcohol abuse, bipolar syndrome, and anxiety/depression. (Id. at 432-41.) Dr. Baubly's treatment records describe a swollen right wrist, anxiety, depression, and severe gout, and note multiple prescription medications. (Id.) Riley also sought treatment for anxiety in August 2006 from Dr. Cullinan. (Id. at 274.) Over the next year, Dr. Cullinan diagnosed Riley with bipolar disorder and prescribed additional medications. (Id. at 274-75.)

Riley visited Elmhurst Memorial Hospital ("Elmhurst") in February 2007 following a fall. (Id. at 334-36.) Later that year, Riley sought treatment from Dr. Jason Castator for gout. (Id. at 283.) In June 2007, Dr. Castator noted swelling and decreased range of motion in Riley's left great toe and adjusted Riley's medications. (Id.) During that time and into early 2008, Riley remained under Dr. Baubly's care for treatment of high blood pressure, anxiety, and alcohol issues. (Id. at 421-29.) Riley reported suicidal thoughts to Dr. Baubly. (Id. at 423.)

Riley returned to Elmhurst in October 2008 after he vomited a brown or black material at home. (Id.> at 340, 342, 346.) He reported to hospital staff that he had been experiencing intermittent episodes of vomiting over the past month. (Id.) at 337, 340, 342.) While in the emergency room, he fell and hit his head. (Id. at 351.) A CT scan of the brain and of the cervical spine revealed no acute findings. (Id. at 347-49.) X-rays of the right wrist showed some chondrocalcinosis, which is also known as pseudogout. (Id. at 303.) A gastric biopsy showed signs of mild chronic gastritis. (Id. at 467.) After two days, he was discharged from Elmhurst with a plan to seek a GI consult and to follow an alcohol detox protocol. (Id. at 352.)

Riley continued to see Dr. Castator until 2010. (Id. at 307-18, 407-12, 413-19.) The records note gout flare-ups, pain, and anxiety. (Id.) Dr. Castator ordered x-rays of Riley's knees, lumbar spine, and wrists in late 2008. (Id. at 298-301.) The x-rays revealed mild degenerative changes in the knees, diffuse degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, and evidence of gout or pseudogout in the wrists. (Id.)

In October 2009, Dr. Castator wrote a letter in which he stated that he had been treating Riley for acute and chronic gout, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. (Id. at 284, 368.) It was Dr. Castator's opinion that Riley was "unable to do physical or mental work-related functions due to his severe medical condition." (Id.) In April 2010, Dr. Castator responded to the state agency's request for a physician's medical evaluation of Riley. (Id. at 323.) Dr. Castator completed the agency's form and indicated that Riley had "Full Capacity" to walk, bend, stand, stoop, sit, turn, climb, push, pull, speak, travel by public conveyance, engage in fine and gross manipulation, and perform activities of daily living during an eight-hour workday, five days a week, except that he had "frequent debilitating gout attacks which render[ed] him incapacitated." (Id. at 326.) Dr. Castator opined that Riley had the capacity to lift "[n]o more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting of up to 50 pounds, " and that Riley had no limitation in his ability to perform activities of daily living, social functioning, or in his ability to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace. (Id.) But he also noted that Riley had experienced four or more episodes of decompensation in the last 12 months. (Id.)

Also in April 2010, around the time that Riley's marriage ended and he was at risk of becoming homeless, Dr. Penepacker of a local mental health department evaluated Riley. (Id. at 474-82.) Dr. Penepacker diagnosed Riley with severe bipolar I disorder without psychotic features, generalized anxiety disorder, and alcohol dependence. (Id. at 481.) He assessed Riley's Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") at 45.[2] (Id.). According to a June 2010 progress note, Riley stopped drinking alcohol because of the gout attacks. (Id. at 484.) The progress notes from June, July, and August 2010 recorded Riley's complaints of mood swings, hearing voices, and increased gout pain, and indicated a GAF score of 45. (Id. at 489, 496, 502.) Dr. Castator's records from the last quarter of 2010 document further gout flare-ups. (Id. at 402-06.)

Dr. Laron Phillips, a psychiatrist, performed a consultative psychiatric evaluation on August 3, 2010. (Id. at 364-67.) Riley told Dr. Phillips that he started to suffer from depression in 2005 after he lost his job. (Id. at 364.) He has since become overwhelmed by the prospect of not being able to return to work because of the limitations caused by gout. (Id.) Riley claimed to have abstained from alcohol since 2005. (Id. at 365.) Dr. Phillips opined that Riley has a "history of chronic ...

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