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Harbin v. Colvin

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

October 6, 2014

KARRIE A. HARBIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.

Plaintiff Karrie Ann Harbin brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income (collectively "benefits") under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d) and 1381a. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the court grants Harbin's motion (dkt. 16), denies the Commissioner's motion (dkt. 24), and remands this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.[2]


I. Harbin's Employment History

Harbin was born on September 11, 1972 and is now 42 years old. (Administrative Record ("AR") 13.) She has one teenage child. ( Id. ) In 2004, Harbin earned an associate's degree in management from the Milwaukee Area Technical College. (AR 13-14.)

From 2005 to 2007, Harbin was employed as the manager of a Qdoba Mexican Grill. (AR 15-16.) At Qdoba, she supervised a staff of about ten people and "pretty much did everything, " including opening and closing the restaurant, computer work, cash control, substituting for sick employees, customer service, and inventory management. (AR 16.) Before working at Qdoba, Harbin worked in a variety of positions, including as a dental assistant, where she was responsible for cleaning exam rooms, keeping patient charts, and answering telephones. (AR 17, 171.)

In March 2007, Harbin married Michael Harbin and relocated from Wisconsin to Chicago. (AR 15-16.) She planned to take six months off from work to acclimate herself and her daughter to the new city. (AR 26.) But in the fall of 2007, Harbin began experiencing pain. In May 2008, Harbin attempted to return to work as a part-time sales associate at the clothing store, Lane Bryant.[3] (AR 138.) Her responsibilities required her to be on her feet for four to five hours per shift and lift up to 15 pounds. (AR 14.) Harbin testified that after her shifts, she would be in so much pain that her husband would have to help her from her car to her house. (AR 14-15.) She often called in sick because of her pain. (AR 15.) She stopped working at Lane Bryant in August 2008 because the physical requirements were too demanding. (AR 14, 138.)

II. Harbin's Medical History

Harbin started feeling "terribly" in the fall of 2007. (AR 26.) She had pain in her back and legs and suffered from fatigue. (AR 25.) Her primary care physician, Dr. Ingrid Liu, referred her to Dr. Douglas Cotsamire, a rheumatologist, in April 2008. (AR 237-38.) Although Dr. Cotsamire found that Harbin suffered from pain in her neck, shoulders, back and hips, he noted that her joints moved normally and that "[n]o pathology is evident." ( Id. ) There was no evidence of inflammation in her joints. ( Id. ) Dr. Cotsamire diagnosed Harbin with diffuse myofascial pain disorder, [4] non-restorative sleep, and fatigue. ( Id. ) He ordered some additional tests and prescribed Doxepin, a medication used to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia. ( Id. ) Dr. Cotsamire also noted that Harbin was 5 feet 5 inches and 278 pounds and suggested that Harbin build up an exercise program. ( Id. )

Harbin visited Dr. Cotsamire again on April 24, 2008. (AR 235-36.) Although her sleep had improved, there was no change in her pain. ( Id. ) Dr. Cotsamire increased the dosage of Doxepin. ( Id. ) Harbin next returned to Dr. Cotsamire on September 4, 2008. (AR 225-27.) She informed him that she had worked in retail from May to August but quit because of her pain. ( Id. ) She also told him it was hard to sit for a long period of time. ( Id. ) Dr. Cotsamire noted that Harbin was "sometimes tearful" during the visit. ( Id. ) He instructed Harbin to take the Doxepin every night and also prescribed Cymbalta, another antidepressant. ( Id. ) Additionally, he referred her to a physical therapist to help her start a "desperately need[ed]" exercise program.[5] ( Id. )

About a week later, Harbin visited Dr. Michael McNett, a fibromyalgia specialist. (AR 244-53.) Dr. McNett found that Harbin was in moderate distress and exhibited 15 of 18 tender points.[6] (AR 245.) He diagnosed Harbin with fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, candida, and depression. (AR 246.) He also prescribed Cymbalta but this was later changed to Neurontin, a medication used to treat neuropathic pain, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and anxiety, because Cymbalta made Harbin ill. (AR 246, 252.) Harbin visited Dr. McNett's office again in November 2008 and was found to have 11 of 18 tender points. (AR 270-73.)

Dr. McNett retired toward the end of 2008 and Harbin was referred to Dr. Rochella Ostrowski, a rheumatologist. (AR 276-79.) Dr. Ostrowski reported that Harbin stopped taking Neurontin, which had helped with her insomnia, because of weight gain. (AR 276.) She found four pairs of tender points but no loss of strength in Harbin's extremities. (AR 277.) Dr. Ostrowski confirmed Harbin's fibromyalgia diagnosis and discussed factors that contribute to fibromyalgia, including lack of restorative sleep and depression. ( Id. ) Dr. Ostrowski told Harbin that treating these factors is a mainstay of the treatment of fibromyalgia and noted that "[a] regular gentle exercise routine has also been found to be very helpful in cases of fibromyalgia[.]" ( Id. ) Dr. Ostrowski prescribed Amitriptyline. ( Id. )

Harbin also visited a chiropractor, Dr. Michael Heatwole, during 2008 and 2009 to relieve her pain. (AR 256-60, 307-27.) On May 5, 2008, Dr. Heatwole observed that Harbin had "good days and bad days but does have general pain most of the time." (AR 257.) He performed some gentle adjustments and suggested that Harbin exercise regularly. ( Id. ) Dr. Heatwole's notes generally indicate that Harbin was in consistent pain during the time she was treated, but she sometimes had flare-ups during which the pain increased. (AR 256-60, 307-27.)

In addition to fibromyalgia, Harbin also suffers from heart arrhythmia (AR 17, 223), hypertension (AR 291), and a fatty liver (AR 229). She has a history of edema in her hands and feet, and she is obese. (AR 19, 237, 276.) At various points throughout the medical records, Harbin also complains of depression. ( See, e.g., AR ...

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