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Wilcox v. Colvin

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

January 9, 2015

CHRISTINE WILCOX, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Cole, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Christine Wilcox, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“Agency”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Ms. Wilcox asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner’s decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision. For the reason stated below, Ms. Wilcox’s motion is granted and this matter is remanded to the Commissioner.

I.

BACKGROUND

A.

Ms. Wilcox’s Impairments

As this case presents only legal issues regarding the ALJ’s decision, we shall dispense with an extended recounting of the medical evidence. In brief, Ms. Wilcox suffers from coronary artery disease, fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease of the right knee, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, ulcerative colitis, and depression. She takes, or has taken, a veritable pharmacy’s worth of prescription medications. (R. 273, 293-94, 302). Doctors have noted she is also obese. (R. 550, 552, 559).

B.

The ALJ’s Decision

The ALJ found that Ms. Wilcox suffered from the following severe impairments: “coronary artery disease; connective tissue disorder, degenerative joint disease of the right knee, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with residuals of surgery, and ulcerative colitis.” (R. 14). She noted that the medical record indicated a history of depression, but concluded it was not a severe impairment, saying there was no treatment, no psychiatric hospitalizations, and the disability agency’s consulting psychologist reported a normal clinical assessment. (R. 14). But the ALJ said she would account for Ms. Wilcox’s difficulties with concentration by limiting her to “unskilled work, which by its vocational definition, is simple in nature.” (R. 14, 22). The ALJ then found that Ms. Wilcox did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a listed impairment. (R. 15-16). Specifically, the ALJ focused on the listings pertaining to major dysfunction of a joint (listing 1.02), spinal arachnoiditis (listing 1.04), inflammatory arthritis (listing 14.00), and coronary artery disease (listings 4.01, 4.04). (R. 16).

The ALJ then determined that Ms. Wilcox retained the capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work. (R. 16). She had to be allowed to stand 15 to 20 minutes at a time at will. She could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl for no more than 12% of a workday. She could only occasionally operate bilateral foot controls. Ms. Wilcox could not be exposed to extreme cold and could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She also could not work around hazardous machinery or at unprotected heights. The ALJ did not mention any limitation to unskilled work. (R. 16). The ALJ then recounted Ms. Wilcox’s allegations and stated that her “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the above residual functional capacity assessment.” (R. 18). The ALJ went on to discuss the medical evidence, noting a long history of treatment and surgeries for multiple impairments. (R. 18-23).

The ALJ then determined that Ms. Wilcox could no longer perform her past work as a hair stylist, which was semi-skilled, light to medium work, because it was “performed at an exertional level in excess of sedentary work.” (R. 23). The ALJ then explained that, at the hearing, she had questioned the vocational expert about whether there were jobs that an individual with Ms. Wilcox’s residual functional capacity and a limitation to simple work could perform. The ALJ accepted the vocational expert’s testimony that there were – jobs like account clerk, information clerk, or order clerk. (R. 24). The vocational expert testified that the jobs existed in significant numbers nationally and regionally. (R. 24). The ALJ noted that Ms. Wilcox’s counsel had stated that he was unable to reproduce data regarding the numbers of these jobs. The ALJ said she was “sustaining” that objection, but clearly she meant the opposite. (R. 24). Finally, the ALJ determined that Ms. Wilcox retained the capacity to perform work that existed in significant numbers as was, therefore, not disabled.

II.

DISCUSSION


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