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Smalley v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

February 10, 2015



RICHARD MILLS, District Judge.

This is an action for judicial review of the Defendant's final decision denying Plaintiff Theresa Smalley's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Pending before the Court are the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance.


On April 7, 2009, the Plaintiff filed concurrent applications for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging a disability onset date of December 26, 2007-when she was 38 years old. The Plaintiff has an eighth grade education. Her past relevant work experience was as a theater manager. The Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.

On July 12, 2010, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Charles Brower. The Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified at the hearing. The Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to December 24, 2008.

In a decision dated January 3, 2011, the ALJ found the Plaintiff to be not disabled. Upon the Plaintiff's request, the Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's determination and, on November 21, 2011, issued a corrected unfavorable decision adopting the ALJ's ultimate non-disability findings. The Appeals Council's decision was the final act of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. This appeal followed.


The ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. He further determined that the Plaintiff has a combination of impairments that is severe: a disorder of the lumbar spine and depression. However, the ALJ found that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity criteria of a listed impairment.

The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to do sedentary work, except that she has certain non-exertional limitations. Specifically, the Plaintiff cannot perform detailed activities of a somewhat complicated nature. The ALJ stated, however, that because the Plaintiff performs a wide range of chores and leisure activities, she has sufficient cognitive and attention ability to perform simply routine activities that have few social demands.

The Plaintiff contends the decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical evidence. Additionally, the ALJ did not properly weigh the Plaintiff's credibility. The Plaintiff further asserts the ALJ relied upon flawed vocational expert testimony.

The ALJ noted the Plaintiff's primary care physician was Miguel Ochoa, M.D. In January and February of 2009, the Plaintiff reported lower back pain. Dr. Ochoa prescribed Cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant, Ibuprofen and Hydrocodone, as needed for pain. The ALJ noted that the MRI showed mild diffuse bulging disc at L2-3 through L4-5, but no focal disc herniation or spinal stenosis. There was some left neural foraminal encroachment at L4-5. Dr. Ochoa diagnosed chronic low back pain with some nerve involvement at L4-5 and continued her medications.

On March 23, 2009, the Plaintiff returned to Dr. Ochoa for low back pain follow-up. She stated she had difficulty ambulating. The Plaintiff returned to Dr. Ochoa in April and May of 2009, complaining of frequent urination and continued low back pain. Dr. Ochoa made no changes.

On July 13, 2009, the Plaintiff returned to Dr. Ochoa, who noted that Plaintiff had low back pain and pelvic pressure and could not work in that condition. Dr. Ochoa further found that because she had a high risk pregnancy, the Plaintiff could not work until after delivery.

The ALJ noted the Plaintiff had routine follow-up appointments relating to her pregnancy on July 23, August 20, September 10, September 18, October 17 and November 18, 2009. On December 20, 2009, the Plaintiff gave birth to a son.

On January 15, 2010, the Plaintiff returned to Dr. Ochoa complaining of severe back pain. Dr. Ochoa diagnosed chronic low back pain and prescribed Cyclobenzaprine, Ibuprofen and Hydrocodone. He prescribed no psychotropic medication. On February 12, 2010, the Plaintiff's medications were refilled.

Dr. Ochoa completed a Multiple Impairment Questionnaire dated February 13, 2010. He diagnosed manic depression (bipolar disorder) and severe back pain. Dr. Ochoa stated that CT scans and x-rays supported the diagnosis of back pain.

On April 10, 2010, the Plaintiff reported no new problems but continued back pain. Dr. Ochoa noted, "Doing ok no new problems, eating ...

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