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Teeling v. Colvin

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

December 15, 2014

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


Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge United States District Court.

Plaintiff Charlene M. Teeling (“Teeling”) seeks review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits. Teeling asks the Court to reverse or remand the Commissioner’s decision on the ground that the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) who heard her claim erred by declining to accept as credible her subjective complaints regarding the extent of her alleged physical limitations. The Commissioner, on the other hand, seeks an order affirming the decision. For the reasons stated herein, Teeling’s Motion is denied and the Commissioner’s Motion is granted.


On November 9, 2010, Teeling filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging that she had become disabled on October 19, 2006. Her application was denied initially, which decision was affirmed upon reconsideration. Thereafter, Teeling sought a hearing before an ALJ.

A. The ALJ Hearing

On April 3, 2012, a hearing was convened at which Teeling appeared with the assistance of counsel. At the time of the hearing, Teeling was fifty-five years old, 5’5”, and weighed 218 pounds. Teeling testified that she had a ninth grade education and that she had not worked since 2008. From 1999 until 2006, Teeling was employed full-time as a manager at a Kmart store, where her duties included supervising checkout operators and working at the service desk. The job required her to be on her feet all day and occasionally involved lifting items weighing up to sixty pounds.

In 2006, Teeling was laid off from her job at Kmart. After that, she stated that her only other history of employment was a stint in 2008 as a part-time school cafeteria aide with the Valley View School District. Teeling was forced to leave that job after only a month, however, because she felt that she could no longer stand on her feet for long periods of time and she believed that the job was contributing to her high blood pressure.

Teeling testified that she had been plagued with numerous health issues over the preceding sixteen years, including back, knee, foot, shoulder, and leg pain, as well as heart disease and other serious conditions. She stated that she had scoliosis in her upper back, a ruptured disc in her neck, which was the result of a car accident that occurred twenty-seven years prior to the hearing, and a herniated disc in her lower back, which she had injured by bending over the wrong way. Teeling described her neck and back pain as being “constant, ” and stated that her pain was between “eight” to “nine” on a scale of zero to ten. Although her doctors recommended surgery, Teeling indicated that she had elected not to undergo any procedure because she was afraid that a positive result would be uncertain. She stated that she took various medications to alleviate her pain and occasionally used a traction unit, Styrofoam roller, and other home therapies.

In addition to her neck and back problems, Teeling testified that she had experienced constant leg and knee pain for the past fifteen years. Although she had undergone several knee surgeries, she reported that her legs tired easily and that her knees often would give out due to lack of adequate circulation. She described her leg pain as being a “seven” on the pain-scale, but that occasionally it got so bad that it felt like a “ten.” At times, Teeling would be in so much pain that she could not walk.

Teeling also stated that she experienced foot pain, which she explained was the result of her car accident, during which her ankle was “totally crushed” and her right foot was “broken in half.” As a consequence, she no longer could bend her right foot properly. At times, it would “lock up” entirely causing her to lose her balance and fall. Teeling stated that she had undergone an MRI, but that her doctor had not recommended any particular course of treatment. She described her foot pain as being constant, with a pain-scale rating of “six.” Teeling further reported that she had developed shoulder problems in 2009 or 2010. She stated that she had undergone surgery twice on her right shoulder and once on her left. Despite those surgeries, however, Teeling testified that she continued to have limited movement and strength in her arms. Teeling also noted that she suffered from neck discomfort and headaches, which she indicated were connected to her arm and shoulder problems. Teeling described her pain as being a “five” or “six” on the pain-scale. Nonetheless, she stated that she achieved partial relief through a combination of Vicodin and various therapeutic exercises.

Teeling also testified that she suffered from serious heart problems. At around the time she left her job at Kmart, she had two stents placed in one of the arteries to her heart in an effort to alleviate a 90 percent blockage. She stated that she also had at least four other less severe blockages.

In addition to her heart condition, Teeling complained of a variety of other medical issues, including sinus problems, Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (“GERD”), and bile leakage, all of which apparently were controlled by medication. Teeling further indicated that she suffered from bronchial asthma, which was aggravated by pollen, weather changes, fumes, and certain chemical cleaning solutions. She also noted that she smoked half a pack of cigarettes per day, but that she was in the process of quitting. She stated that she experienced shortness of breath and that she would need to use an inhaler after walking even short distances. Teeling further testified that she had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but stated that she did not use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (“CPAP”) machine because she was claustrophobic.

At the time of the hearing, Teeling was taking numerous medications, including Toprol (a beta-blocker), Lisinopril (an ACE inhibitor), Norvasc (a blood pressure medication), Nitroglycerine (an angina medication), Isosorbide (another angina medication), Aspirin, Zocor (a cholesterol medication), Xanax (an anxiety medication), Carafate (an anti-ulcer medication), an albuterol sulfate inhaler (for asthma), Flonase (a nasal spray for allergy relief), Vicodin (a pain medication), Cholestyramine (a bile acid sequestrant), and Prilosec (a drug used to treat symptoms of GERD).

With regard to her alleged functional limitations, Teeling testified that she had a reduced range of arm motion and that she could not lift her arms higher than her head or grab items anywhere other than at chest level. She stated that she was capable of lifting items that weighed as much as a gallon of milk, but noted that she was unable to carry around an object of that weight for any extended period of time. Teeling further stated that, while she could carry around lighter objects, such as a paper file, she otherwise had no control over the strength in her arms. ...

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