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Ramirez v. Colvin

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

February 13, 2015

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


JORGE L. ALONSO, District Judge.

Plaintiff appeals defendant's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("benefits"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses defendant's decision and remands this case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.


On October 9, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for benefits alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2008. (Administrative Record ("AR") 145.) She reported that she had diabetes, back pain, high blood pressure, swelling of her feet and legs and an ulcer in her left eye. (AR 201.) She stated that her conditions made it difficult for her to stand and drive, that she tired easily, could not lift more than ten pounds, and had difficulty seeing out of her left eye. (AR 201.)

The Commissioner denied her application upon both initial review and reconsideration. (AR 60-72.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 30, 2011. ( See AR 37-59.) On May 10, 2011, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application for benefits. ( See AR 24-31.) On October 26, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 9.) This appeal followed.


The Court reviews the ALJ's decision de novo but gives deference to her factual findings. Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734 (7th Cir. 2006). The decision will be upheld "if it is supported by substantial evidence, " i.e., evidence "sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that [it] supports the decision." Id. at 734-35 (quotations omitted). "We are not allowed to displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility determinations." Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). "In fact, even if reasonable minds could differ concerning whether [plaintiff] is disabled, we must nevertheless affirm the ALJ's decision denying her claims if the decision is adequately supported." Id. (quotations and citations omitted).

The ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, [1] hypertension, spondylolisthesis, [2] obstructive sleep apnea, [3] and restrictive ventilatory defect.[4] (AR 26-27.) Despite these conditions, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and use her lower extremities to push and pull, can never climb ropes, ladders or scaffolding, and should avoid concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants. (AR 30.)

According to the ALJ, plaintiff testified that:

[S]he is right-handed and currently weighs 290 pounds. She lives in an apartment with her foster child age 15 and grandson age 5. She reported she had lower back pain that she rated at a 6 on a pain scale in which 10 is the worst pain imaginable.... [but] had not taken any medication on the day of the hearing. She further testified that she has sleep problems, sits up to sleep, only sleeps for a few hours at night, sleeps during the day, and falls asleep even while talking. The claimant testified that she needs help putting on shoes and socks.... [T]he claimant testified that on a typical day she is tired because she does not sleep well at night. The claimant also testified that she has sores and infections in her legs[, ].... that... are open multiple times during the year. The claimant testified that she has to climb two flights of stairs to get to her apartment and needs to stop for breath on her way up.... [and] uses a cane a couple of times a day. The claimant further testified that she has problems opening things with her right hand[, ].... has difficulty paying attention for two hours[, ]...[and] could walk for one block before her legs and back hurt. The claimant further testified she become[s] short of breath after standing for 30 minutes[, ]... could not stand for a total of 2-3 hours in a day.... [, and] her toes and feet become numb after sitting for 30 minutes and, therefore, she needs to stand and move about every 10-15 minutes. The claimant also testified that she could lift a gallon of milk but could not carry it very far.

(AR 29.)

The ALJ did not find plaintiff's testimony to be wholly credible:

The claimant's allegation that she falls asleep even while carrying on a conversation and, therefore, cannot work is not entirely credible. The claimant does suffer from sleep apnea.... However, she uses a CPAP machine.[5] A polysomnogram[6] with CPAP titration indicated that using a CPAP machine set [at] 16 cm H2O should solve the claimant [sic] sleep apnea problem.... The claimant's allegation of difficulty opening things with her dominant hand is also not supported. The record does not indicate the claimant complained of serious problems with grip to any physician or health care provider. In addition, the claimant's allegations of extreme shortness of breath are also not entirely credible. The claimant is morbidly obese and she does have a pulmonary impairment. However, the findings on the pulmonary function test are not consistent with the inability to perform at least sedentary work. Furthermore, the claimant stays with her five-year-old grandson and has cared for him ...

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