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Simonetti v. Colvin

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

August 11, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL T. MASON, Magistrate Judge.

This case is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [17] is denied and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [22] is granted. The decision of the Commission to deny benefits is affirmed.


A. Procedural History

Joseph Simonetti filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on November 18, 2009. (R. 78-79). Simonetti also filed an application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI") on January 29, 2010. (R. 80-81). Simonetti alleged disability beginning February 6, 2007. (R. 265). His claims were denied on May 12, 2010 and upon reconsideration on September 30, 2010. (R. 87-90, 105-106). Simonetti requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and the case was assigned to ALJ Roxanne Kelsey, who held the requested hearing on January 31, 2012. (R. 105-106, 116-120). ALJ Kelsey issued a written decision denying Simonetti's request for benefits on March 19, 2012. (R. 10-20). Simonetti requested review before the Appeals Council, submitting some additional medical records to support his claim for benefits. The Appeals Council declined to consider the new records and subsequently denied Simonetti's request for review on April 25, 2013. (R. 1-4). Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1); Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 637 (7th Cir. 1998). Simonetti subsequently filed this action in the district court, seeking review of that decision.

B. Simonetti's Testimony

At the hearing before the ALJ on January 31, 2012, Simonetti testified that he was born on September 21, 1967, graduated from high school and is able to communicate in English. (R. 171, 174, 176). He testified that he resides with his two children, who are in school, and with his girlfriend, who works full time. (R. 49).

Simonetti alleged disability as of February of 2007 and testified that he has not worked since that time. (R. 47). Prior to the date of his alleged onset, Simonetti worked as a truck driver. (R. 177). He testified that his main health problems include headaches and chronic neck pain. (R. 47). Simonetti also testified that his hands swell up when he uses them and that he recently began receiving shots of pain killers in his toes because he has problems walking. (R. 47-48).

Simonetti testified that he has a driver's license but rarely drives any more. (R. 49). He testified that he will take trips to the gas station two to three blocks from his house to buy pop. ( Id. ). After driving for a while he gets bad neck pains that lead to lower back aches and headaches. ( Id. ). He testified that he normally drives at night and the lights hurt his eyes and worsen his headaches. (R. 50).

Simonetti testified that he is occasionally responsible for getting his son from school. ( Id. ). The school is a mile away and Simonetti walks or has someone else drive him to pick up his son. ( Id. ). A few times the school had to call because Simonetti forgot. ( Id. ). He testified that when he walks his feet swell up and pains develop in his shins so he prefers to find a ride. (R. 51). Other than the few times he picked his son up from school, he has not attended one of his children's school or sport activities in over a year except for a parent-teacher conference. ( Id. ).

While Simonetti's children and girlfriend are gone for the day he testified that he sits at home and watches TV. (R. 55). He does not have any favorite TV shows and does not read because it causes headaches. ( Id. ). Simonetti testified that he changes the channel continuously and does not remember what he was watching. (R. 59). He testified he has not had a hobby in five years and no longer participates in social organizations. (R. 64-65). During the holidays he will get together with family and friends if they come over to his house, but he rarely travels to other homes. (R. 55-56). Simonetti occasionally does household chores such as throwing in laundry once or twice a month and starting dinner every once in a while. (R. 55). However, he testified that his family does not want him cooking anymore because he left the stove on a couple times and almost burned the house down. ( Id. ).

Simonetti testified that he has not been pain-free for even a single day since his car accident in 2007. (R. 57). He had neck surgery to decrease the pain, but according to Simonetti the pain is now worse. (R. 57-58). He also testified that he had surgery on his right shoulder and now claims it does not move like it used to. (R. 63). He testified that the doctors wanted to go back in and fix the part that did not heal correctly, but Simonetti said no because of the problems with his neck surgery. ( Id. ). In the past, he had physical therapy, but not since his last car accident in 2009. (R. 57).

Simonetti testified he was taking various prescription medications for headaches, depression, anxiety and pain. (R. 51-52). He did not know how to pronounce the different medications and could not remember all of the names, but assumed there were at least 10. ( Id. ). He testified the medications may be part of the reason for his memory and sleep problems. (R. 52). Simonetti also testified that the medications for headaches only work on some days; he testified that, on other days, he "could take pain pill after pain pill" and still end up in the emergency room. ( Id. ).

Simonetti clarified that the headaches are actually migraines and that he takes two different medications, one that he takes every day and one that he takes only when he has a migraine. (R. 53). He testified that he gets migraines three to five times a week and five to eight a month are so bad that they cannot be controlled. (R. 54). He testified that the doctors want to put him on a higher dosage, but he said no because he is worried about the side-effects of a stronger medication since he is already forgetful. (R. 64).

Simonetti testified that when he gets headaches he has to go into a quiet room without disruptions from his family members. (R. 61). He testified that the headaches last for days and that he is incapacitated at least fifteen to twenty days a month. ( Id. ). Simonetti testified he gets irritable and will occasionally yell at strangers in public. ( Id. ). He testified he once yelled at a woman for snapping her gum because his ears become sensitive when he has headaches. ( Id. ).

Simonetti testified that turning his head to the right or the left causes him pain in his neck. (R. 62). He also said that looking up causes pain and looking down relieves many of the issues. ( Id. ). Simonetti then testified that he uses an ice pack machine, hot shower, or heat pack to relieve his neck pain. (R. 55). He testified that activities such as throwing a ball around with his son for half an hour can cause him to "be stuck on the couch or bed for a few days." (R. 56). Simonetti also testified that doing the dishes will cause excruciating pain in his lower back. ( Id. ).

Simonetti testified that his right hand is his good hand and it swells up if he uses a pencil or screwdriver. (R. 58). He testified that writing a short note causes his hand to swell up between his index finger and thumb and leaves him unable to move his fingers because the pain is so bad. (R. 58-59). Simonetti testified that he can sign his own name without any problems and can type for a maximum of five minutes. (R. 59, 62). He can also use zippers and open doors. (R. 59).

Simonetti testified he can lift ten to fifteen pounds. (R. 58). He testified he can sit for an hour and stand for five to thirty minutes, depending on his feet that day. ( Id. ). Simonetti testified that he can walk "a couple houses" for the most part and can sometimes walk a few blocks. ( Id. ). He testified that he could work for ten to fifteen minutes over his head until he suffers from a pinching pain in his shoulder. (R. 63). He testified that this pain occurs when he works with either his right arm or left arm. ( Id. ).

Simonetti testified during the hearing that he was starting to get a headache from his lower back and neck pain, even though he took his medication that morning. (R. 56).

Simonetti testified that he sometimes forgets to attend doctor appointments and sometimes forgets to take his medication; other times, he forgets that he has already taken his medication and his family has to stop him from taking it twice. (R. 59, 60). He testified that he also sometimes forgets to give his son his ADHD medication in the morning, which causes disruptions at school. (R. 60). Simonetti testified that he has difficulty staying on task. (R. 63). He explained that his Social Security papers had to be resent and calls had to be made to remind him of the importance and need for the complete product. (R. 63-64).

C. Vocational Expert's Testimony

After hearing from Simonetti, the ALJ heard from Lee Knutson, who testified as a vocational expert ("VE"). (R. 114-115, 137). The VE described Simonetti's past work as a truck driver of a tractor trailer combination as medium, semi-skilled, and at times performed at heavy. (R. 66).

The ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical person with the same age, education, and past relevant work as Simonetti. (R. 67). The ALJ then asked the VE to assume the individual could perform light work; may occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and may occasionally kneel, crouch, or crawl; and the individual may frequently, but not continuously, reach overhead with either upper extremity. ( Id. ). In addition the individual would remain able to perform unskilled work despite his memory loss, which would ...

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