United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SHEILA FINNEGAN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Edward Wieczorek seeks to overturn the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. After careful review of the record, the Court now grants the Commissioner's motion, denies Plaintiff's motion, and affirms the decision to deny disability benefits.
Plaintiff applied for DIB on July 19, 2010, alleging that he became disabled on May 24, 2004 due to Dupuytren's contractures (a hand impairment), hypothyroidism and anxiety. (R. 152, 212). The Social Security Administration denied the applications initially on October 13, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on March 4, 2011. (R. 85-91, 97-102). Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing and appeared before Administrative Law Judge Joel G. Fina (the "ALJ") on April 5, 2012. (R. 36). The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as from medical expert Laura M. Rosch, D.O. (the "ME") and vocational expert Thomas Allen Gusloff (the "VE"). Shortly thereafter, on May 30, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled because there were a significant number of medium jobs he could have performed prior to his December 31, 2010 date last insured ("DLI"). (R. 9-17). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 27, 2013, (R. 1-3), and Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
In support of his request for remand, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ made a flawed residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination, resulting in an incomplete hypothetical question to the vocational expert. As discussed below, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and does not require reversal or remand.
Plaintiff was born on March 20, 1955, and was 55 years old on the December 31, 2010 DLI. (R. 152, 208). He has a high school diploma and spent 28 years working as a packer for automotive and scientific supply companies. He stopped working in May 2004 for reasons not clear from the record, had surgery on his right hand in August 2005, and tried to resume packing work in early 2006. The warehouse closed after Plaintiff had been there less than six months, and he has not held another job since that time due to continuing problems with his hands. (R. 40-41, 44-45, 72-73, 212-13, 244, 322).
A. Medical History
The first available medical record relating to Plaintiff's hands is an August 10, 2005 x-ray of his right pinky finger. (R. 327). The test showed soft tissue swelling of the "right fifth digit, " and a "subchondral cyst involving the distal aspect of the proximal phalanx of the third digit." ( Id. ). Approximately two weeks later, on August 23, 2005, Plaintiff had a right hand partial palmar fasciectomy due to Dupuytren's contracture of the right palm. (R. 322). Thereafter, from 2007 through May 2010, Plaintiff had regular appointments with his internist, Sameer M. Naseeruddin, M.D., at Fahey Medical Centers, but none of the treatment notes mentions hand pain or difficulties. (R. 292-93, 379-80, 381-91, 428, 445-46).
1. June through December 2010
On June 2, 2010, Plaintiff saw Sanjay K. Patari, M.D., of the Center for Sports Orthopaedics, S.C., due to a recurrence of Dupuytren's contracture in both of his pinky fingers, "right greater than left." (R. 340). Dr. Patari recommended that Plaintiff try Xiaflex to treat the condition, but it is not clear from the record whether he ever started that medication. ( Id. ). The following month, on July 19, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability benefits.
On September 14, 2010, Roopa K. Karri, M.D., performed an Internal Medicine Consultative Examination of Plaintiff for the Bureau of Disability Determination Services ("DDS"). (R. 348-51). Plaintiff told Dr. Karri that his right hand "did not get better" following the surgery in 2005, and he has difficulty driving and dressing because his pinky fingers "poke through everything he has to hold." (R. 349). Though he can write "some, " he can only wear mittens and not gloves, and he cannot hold a ball or play ball with his grandchild. Plaintiff described driving with the palms of his hands due to difficulty grasping, and said he has trouble holding a coffee pot, getting things in his pockets, washing his face, and picking up boxes. ( Id. ). He reported taking naproxen (brand name Naprosyn) at that time for pain. ( Id. ).
Dr. Karri's physical examination confirmed the presence of Dupuytren's contractures with flexed pinky fingers and "mild flexion of the right second finger." (R. 350). Plaintiff exhibited slightly reduced grip strength of 4/5 in both hands, as well as mild difficulty squeezing the blood pressure pump, buttoning, zipping, and tying shoelaces, but Plaintiff said "the fifth fingers are an annoyance, more than anything." Dr. Karri observed that Plaintiff was able to get on and off the exam table and walk 50 feet without support, and she noted normal range of motion in Plaintiff's shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, cervical spine, and lumbar spine, with full strength of 5/5 in the arms and legs, and normal sensation. ( Id. ). Dr. Karri diagnosed "History of Dupuytren's contractures in both hands with flexed fifth fingers." (R. 351).
A few weeks later, on October 8, 2010, David Mack, M.D., completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Plaintiff for DDS. (R. 367-74). Based on the 2005 surgical report, Dr. Patari's June 2010 treatment note, and Dr. Karri's consultative exam, Dr. Mack found that Plaintiff's Dupuytren's contracture allows him to occasionally lift 50 pounds; frequently lift 25 pounds; stand, walk and sit for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; and push and pull without limitation. (R. 368, 374). He can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; he can frequently handle (gross manipulation); he can frequently finger (fine manipulation); and he can reach and feel without limitation; but he must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights. (R. 369-71). Dr. Mack concluded that Plaintiff's statements regarding his limitations were "partially credible, " noting that despite having reduced grip strength, he told Dr. Karri that his flexed pinky fingers are "an annoyance, more than anything." (R. 372).
Approximately one month before the DLI of December 31, 2010, Plaintiff returned to his internist, Dr. Naseeruddin, on November 4, 2010 requesting that the doctor "fill out papers" in support of his disability claim. (R. 378). As noted previously, Plaintiff had last seen the doctor in May 2010. In his November treatment note, Dr. Naseeruddin mentioned Dupuytren's contracture for the first time, and described Plaintiff's pinky fingers as contracted, with additional contracture of the 1st and 4th fingers. (R. 377). In a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire completed the same day, Dr. Naseeruddin reiterated that Plaintiff suffers from Dupuytren's contracture, and claimed for the first time that he also has degenerative joint disease ("DJD") and osteoarthritis which cause him pain, numbness, locking, and difficulties grasping objects. (R. 403). According to Dr. Naseeruddin, these symptoms would constantly interfere with Plaintiff's ability to maintain the attention and concentration needed to perform even simple work tasks.
Considering the demands of a typical 8-hour workday, Dr. Naseeruddin said that Plaintiff can sit and stand for 45 minutes at one time, but he can only sit for less than 2 hours and stand/walk for about 2 hours total. In addition, he must walk for 8-10 minutes every hour, and he needs to take 3-4 unscheduled breaks each day. These must be followed by 1-2 days of rest before he can return to work due to severe hand pain and adverse effects of medication. (R. 403-04). Dr. Naseeruddin stated that Plaintiff can occasionally lift less than 10 pounds, never lift 10 or more pounds, and never use his hands or fingers at all. (R. 404). He will be ...