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Griffin v. Colvin

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

October 28, 2014

HORACE GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MILTON I. SHADUR, Senior District Judge.

Horace Griffin ("Griffin") seeks judicial review pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), more specifically 42 U.S.C. ยง 1383(c)(3), [1] of the final decision by Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin ("Commissioner") that denied Griffin's claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. Griffin and Commissioner have filed cross-motions for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56. Griffin asks this Court to reverse Commissioner's decision and award benefits to Griffin or, in the alternative, to remand the case for further proceedings. Commissioner's motion asks this Court to affirm her denial of benefits. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order ("Opinion"), Commissioner's motion is denied, Griffin's motion is denied in part and granted in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Procedural Background

Griffin filed an application for supplemental security income ("SSI") on August 11, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2006 (R. 23). Those applications were denied on November 1, 2011 and again upon reconsideration on March 1, 2012 (id.). Griffin then made a timely filing for a hearing, and Administrative Law Judge Jose Anglada ("ALJ Anglada" or simply "the ALJ") held a hearing on November 5, 2012. On December 13, 2012 the ALJ issued a decision denying Griffin's application (R. 33). Griffin requested review from the Appeals Council, but it denied his request for review on January 8, 2014 (R. 1). Thus ALJ Anglada's opinion represents Commissioner's final decision.

Factual Background

Griffin, born April 5, 1954, was 58 years old on the hearing date (R. 164). He is married but separated from his wife (he lives with his cousin (R. 45)) and has two adult children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren (R. 44-45, 73). Griffin, who has a high school education (R. 45), has not had gainful employment in at least ten years (R. 178). His sole income consists of small payment of a few dollars from friends and neighbors that he receives for doing tasks such as bringing them an item from the corner store (R. 58).

Griffin suffers from hepatitis C, neuralgic pain, joint pain and an enlarged prostate (R. 25, 74-75). Although he was a longtime heroin and methadone abuser, he recently detoxed and is now sober (R. 70-72, 395).

At the hearing Griffin testified that he suffers from a tingling-like pain in his feet, arms and hands and that he has long suffered from joint pain in those same extremities (R. 67, 78-81). Examining physician Jaroslav Goldman, M.D., had recently diagnosed that pain as neuropathy caused by hepatitis (R. 80-81, 571). Such pain prevents Griffin from standing for long periods or from walking more than two or three blocks at a time, he said (R. 53, 81). Griffin also testified that one of the medications used to treat his hepatitis - a shot he administers to his own abdomen once a week - leaves him so nauseous that he eats only one meal a day during three to four days each week (R. 49-51, 68). He also reported disabling fatigue, a combination of nighttime sleeplessness and daytime drowsiness, as well as persistent flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains (R. 48-49, 79). As for his prostate problems, Griffin testified that he needs to urinate five to six times daily, as well as multiple times each night (R. 77). And he stated that he has not used heroin or methadone since detoxing under hospital care in December 2011 (R. 72-73).

No medical expert testified at the hearing, but vocational expert Thomas Alan Gusloff ("Gusloff") did. Gusloff testified as to a hypothetical worker who could perform only unskilled work at no more than a medium exertional level (R. 82-83). He stated that such a worker would need to be on task at least 85% of the time - otherwise no work would be available to that worker in the national economy (R. 86). Similarly, a "pattern of two days or more" absence per 30-day period would cause such a disabled worker to be unable to find and retain any employment (R. 87). And needing to take unpredictable breaks to urinate 5 to 6 times a day would "interfere with these or any other job" (R. 88).

Documentary evidence was somewhat scant. What evidence there was indicated that Griffin did indeed suffer from hepatitis C, neuralgia and other pain, prostate problems and a history of substance abuse (e.g. R. 349, 395, 430, 568, 571). But there is very little as far as medical records go that documents functional limitations, and indeed two state agency doctors deemed Griffin capable of medium work within the meaning of the Social Security regulations (R. 393, 556). Still, notes from Dr. Goldman do record Griffin's complaints of fatigue and pain (R. 570-71). And treating physician Olga Lansky, M.D., responded to two questions after the hearing by writing, "He will have difficulties to sustain full time work due to disease progression, persistent fatigue and malaise and [indecipherable] complications of chronic liver disease" (R. 580).

ALJ Opinion

ALJ Anglada made these findings (paraphrased here, except when the particular words the ALJ used are important):

1. Griffin had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 11, 2011 (R. 25).
2. Griffin had these severe impairments: hepatitis C, arthritis and ...

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