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Corniels v. Colvin

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

October 24, 2014

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


JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.

Plaintiff Larry Corniels brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423, and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. For the following reasons, Corniels's motion for summary judgment (dkt. 13) is granted and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this order.


I. Medical History

Corniels is now 64 years old and lives in Tinley Park, Illinois with his landlord. (Administrative Record[2] ("AR") 45-47.) He is unmarried and has one daughter from a previous marriage with whom he has little contact. (AR 97-98, 640.) He suffers from panic disorder, agoraphobia, depression, and anxiety disorder. (AR 52.) He was first treated for his psychiatric conditions in 1974 and has been on psychotropic medication since 1975. (AR 49, 54, 89-90.) At the time of the hearing before Administrative Law Judge Marlene Abrams ("the ALJ"), Corniels was taking generic Prozac, Buspar, and Klonopin, as well as medication to treat his high blood pressure. (AR 88-90.)

The earliest available medical records are from one of Corniels's treating psychiatrists, Dr. Kirts, who provided his notes and a brief opinion for Corniels's 2004 application for disability benefits. (AR 346-355.) Dr. Kirts stated that Corniels suffers from panic disorder with depressive features and that he is "unable to remember instruction or respond to supervisors due to panic attack." (AR 350.)

From 2006 to 2008, Corniels saw Dr. Vora, a psychiatrist at Grand Prairie Services.[3] (AR 399-409, 565-606, 610-28.) Dr. Vora diagnosed Corniels with panic disorder, agoraphobia, and depression. (AR 403.) She noted that Corniels was generally cooperative and interacted appropriately, and gave him a Global Assessment of Functioning[4] ("GAF") score of 70. (AR 399, 403.) Dr. Vora prescribed Prozac and Clonazepam. (AR 403, 565.) Her notes indicate that Corniels was stable and that his anxiety and depression were under control with the exception of occasional mild panic attacks. ( See AR 634.) Corniels's GAF score stayed consistent at 70. ( Id. )

From April 2009 until July 2009, Corniels was treated by Dr. Chung, another psychiatrist at Grand Prairie Service. (AR 56-57, 60, 657-61.) Dr. Chung's notes generally confirm Dr. Vora's observations. (AR 658-61.) Dr. Chung did note increased anxiety due to Corniels's then-upcoming hearing and, at Corniels's request, he added a prescription for the anxiety medication Buspirone. (AR 659-60.) In March 2009, Corniels also visited Dr. Isaac at the Family Christian Health Center, who gave Corniels a GAF score of 51-60 and noted that Corniels's mood and affect were dysphoric. (AR 679.)

In July 2009, Grand Prairie Services lost state funding and Corniels was forced to fill his prescriptions at Oak Forest Health Center. (AR 57-60, 639-56.) In October 2009, Corniels ran out of medication, had an anxiety attack, and visited the Oak Forest emergency room. (AR 641-44, 665.) Shortly after his emergency room visit, and about a week before the ALJ hearing, Corniels started treatment with Dr. Khattak, a psychiatrist at Oak Forest. (AR 57, 59, 662-70.) After the hearing, Dr. Khattak completed a questionnaire regarding Corniels. (AR 662-70.) She diagnosed Corniels with panic disorder with agoraphobia, and gave him a GAF score of 62. (AR 663.) She noted that Corniels had panic attacks "several times a week, " that he would be incapable of tolerating even low-stress work environments, and that he would be absent from work more than three times per month. (AR 665, 669, 670.) Dr. Khattak was "unable to comment" in response to the questionnaire's specific inquiries into Corniels's abilities. (AR 666.) At the time, she had been treating him for less than three weeks. (AR 663, 666-68.)

Dr. Khattak submitted a second questionnaire in 2010, after the ALJ closed the record but before the ALJ issued an opinion. (AR 682-90; dkt. 14 at 15.) She again diagnosed panic disorder with agoraphobia and gave Corniels a GAF score of 55. (AR 683.) She identified a number of symptoms that she had not identified in her previous questionnaire, such as anhedonia and paranoia. ( Compare AR 664, with AR 684.) Dr. Khattak noted that, even though Corniels had not sought hospitalization, he had called a panic hotline three times for his panic attacks. (AR 685.) Unlike her first assessment, she concluded that Corniels would be capable of handling some low stress work environments, but his impairments would keep him from work for more than three days per month. (AR 689-90.)

Although Corniels's case primarily rests on a mental, rather than physical, disability, his physical state nevertheless bears some mention. Corniels is obese, and suffers from both hypertension and arthritis. (AR 416, 639, 663.) In January 2009, Corniels fell and twisted his knee. (AR 647, 672.) He underwent a complete exam at Family Christian Health Center in February 2009, in which he complained of pain in his right knee as well as sleep apnea. (AR 671-76.) Corniels continued to complain of knee pain in follow-up visits. (AR 677-79, 647.) II. Employment History[5]

Corniels completed high school, but he did not attend college or receive vocational training. (AR 46.) He has a drivers' license but does not own a car. (AR 47.) From 1993 to 2000, Corniels maintained electronics assembly machines. (AR 235, 255, 259.) It appears that Corniels was not steadily employed between 2000 and 2003, although he may have done some in-home care. (AR 235.) In 2003 and 2004, Corniels worked as an electronics assembler, but he was laid off after a year because the position was no longer needed. (AR 54-55.) He also was a greeter at a retail store in 2003 or 2004 and had a job as an electronics tester for about seven months in 2004 and 2005. (AR 229.) In 2007, Corniels briefly worked as a part-time greeter at a grocery store, but he left after six weeks because of the stress of interacting with the public. (AR 75-76, 227, 229.) At the hearing, Corniels testified that he "usually ends up getting fired" from jobs because of absenteeism due to his panic attacks and doctors' appointments. (AR 48.) He testified that he had been fired at least ten times since 1985, almost always because of his absenteeism. (AR 97.)

III. Disability Claim and Hearing Testimony

In 2007, Corniels applied for disability insurance benefits and SSI for the period starting March 20, 2005 (the date he stopped working as an electronics tester). (AR 213.) The Social Security Administration denied his claim on August 30, 2007 (AR 126-32) and denied his request for reconsideration in March 2008 (AR 133-44). Corniels requested review by an ALJ and a hearing was held on November 5, 2009. (AR 40-102, ...

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