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Williams v. Colvin

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

September 24, 2014

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


SIDNEY I. SCHENKIER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Edgar Williams moves for reversal or remand of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") (doc. # 29). The Commissioner has filed a cross-motion seeking affirmance of the decision (doc. # 38). For the following reasons, we grant Mr. William's motion and remand the Commissioner's decision.


Mr. Williams applied for SSI in January 2008, alleging a disability onset date of September 21, 2007, when he was 38 years old (R. 136). After his claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration (R. 90-100), Mr. Williams received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 19, 2010 (R. 46). The ALJ denied Mr. Williams's claim in May 2010 (R. 18-27); in October 2011, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision (R. 1). Subsequently, in March 2013, the Appeals Council set aside its original decision in order to consider additional evidence and then again denied review (R. 1-3), making the ALJ's ruling the final decision of the Commissioner. See Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 695 (7th Cir. 2012).


We first summarize the administrative record. Part A reviews Mr. Williams's physical impairments, Part B reviews the hearing testimony and Part C summarizes the ALJ's opinion.


In December 2002, Mr. Williams injured his back while working as a laborer for the Bellwood, Illinois Streets and Sanitation Department (R. 52, 150-151). Between 2002 and his alleged disability onset date of September 21, 2007, Mr. Williams did not work at all (R. 15).[3] During these years, he visited the Melrose Park Health Clinic ("Melrose Park Clinic") four to six times each year for various reasons, including low back pain and high blood pressure (R. 292-332).[4] Mr. Williams was prescribed Tarka for his high blood pressure and Ibuprofen and Vicodin for his pain; he has taken Vicodin nearly every day since soon after his injury (R. 59).

Mr. Williams's medical treatment relevant to our decision began in April 2007, when he again visited the Melrose Park Clinic complaining of back pain (R. 302). At that time, he had an X-ray which showed a narrowing of the lumbosacral spine at L5-S1 (R. 301).[5] In July 2007, Mr. Williams had an MRI of his lower back. The MRI showed diffuse epidural lipomatosis, or an overgrowth of fat inside the vertebrae, between L2 and S2 (R. 243). It also showed degenerative disc disease at L4/L5 and L5/S1 and mild facet arthropathy, which refers to the development of arthritis in the vertebrae's facet joints ( Id. ). The MRI revealed no spinal canal stenosis or other major issues at L5/S1. The remainder of Mr. Williams's spine was unremarkable ( Id. ).

After Mr. Williams had his MRI, the record does not reflect any change to his treatment program. He visited the Melrose Park Clinic twice in January 2008 complaining of back pain and continued to take Vicodin and Ibuprofen as needed (R. 293-94). Also in January 2008, Mr. Williams's treating physician, Joseph Giacchino, wrote a letter to Mr. Williams's attorney giving the opinion that Mr. Williams was totally disabled and had no ability to perform any type of work (R. 185). The letter said that Mr. Williams's disability was permanent and also said that his "rehabilitation potential is fair" ( Id. ).

Mr. Williams underwent a consultative examination by Dilip Patel, M.D., a state agency physician, on March 24, 2008 (R. 284-87). Dr. Patel noted in his report that Mr. Williams was unable to walk heel-to-toe, squat, or get on or off the exam table (R. 287). He also had a positive "straight leg raise" test which meant he could not lift either leg up to a 45 degree angle without pain ( Id. ). Dr. Patel diagnosed Mr. Williams with lumbosacral disk disease and high blood pressure ( Id. ); he did not express any opinion on Mr. Williams's capacity to perform work-related activity.[6]

On April 29, 2008, Commission physician Virgilio Pilapil, M.D. reviewed Dr. Patel's report, as well as the x-ray and MRI reports, before completing a Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Assessment for Mr. Williams (R. 347-58). Dr. Pilapil opined that Mr. Williams could frequently lift ten pounds, occasionally lift 20 pounds, could stand and/or walk for at least two hours in an eight hour day, and could sit for about six hours per day (R. 348). He agreed with Dr. Patel's diagnosis of lumbosacral disc disease with radiculopathy (nerve damage) symptoms and high blood pressure (R. 354). The "comments" section of the RFC noted that Mr. Williams experienced a lot of pain when bending or stretching, that he required frequent rest periods and that either prolonged standing or sitting increased his symptoms ( Id. ).

On September 12, 2008, Mr. Williams visited the Melrose Park Clinic to report increased back pain that was spreading to his right leg (R. 371). On November 5, 2008, Mr. Williams's treating physician from the Melrose Park Clinic, Dr. Giacchino, completed a "multiple impairment questionnaire" that diagnosed Mr. Williams with lumbar osteoarthritic disc disease with right leg weakness (R. 360). Dr. Giacchino opined that Mr. Williams could sit for three hours and stand or walk for two hours in an eight hour work day, and stated that Mr. Williams could not sit continuously but must get up and move around once every hour for 15 minutes (R. 362). He was also able to occasionally lift or carry up to ten pounds ( Id. ). Dr. Giacchino wrote that Mr. Williams had constant pain and that he would be absent from work more than three times per month because of it (R. 366).

Mr. Williams continued to visit Dr. Giacchino at the Melrose Park Clinic in 2008 and 2009 because of back pain (R. 371, 375, 377-78). In May 2009, he visited the clinic to report that his right knee "gives out on him' with pain that radiates down Rt lower extremity" (R. 377). In July 2009, Mr. Williams had another x-ray of his spine which showed mild degenerative spurring of the L5 but no other issues (R. 379). ...

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