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Murphy v. Colvin

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

April 1, 2015

DIANE M. MURPHY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


IAIN D. JOHNSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Diane Murphy appeals the administrative denial of her application for disability benefits. For the reasons given below, the case is remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this order.

Procedural Background

Ms. Murphy applied for disability benefits under both Title II and Title XVI on August 4, 2009, alleging an onset date of August 31, 2008. Her claims were denied initially on December 1, 2009, and upon reconsideration on April 13, 2010. On April 27, 2010, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, which occurred on December 2, 2010, by video. Ms. Murphy was represented at the hearing by counsel.

On March 25, 2011, the ALJ determined that Ms. Murphy was not disabled. She sought review before the Appeals Council, but it denied her request, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. She then timely appealed to this Court.

Evidence Presented

During the hearing on December 2, 2010, Ms. Murphy testified that she has suffered anxiety since her parents died when she was a child. R. 57. She also testified that she suffers from depression, and that the anxiety and depression leave her nervous, unable to concentrate, and cause her to break out in sweats. R.33. She also testified she suffers from crippling arthritis, peripheral artery disease that causes weakness in her arms and legs, and pain in her chest that makes breathing so difficult she once went to the hospital. R. 48-49. She also told the ALJ that she suffers from asthma that causes coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, and that a metal plate she received after removal of a brain tumor causes headaches that she controls with ibuprofen but that never fully go away. R. 49 (asthma), 52-53 (headaches). In addition to ibuprofen, she takes Paxil, Amitriptyline and Seroquel for her depression, anxiety, and to help her sleep, and inhalers for her asthma. R. 48, 51.

According to Ms. Murphy, her conditions have left her unable to lift more than five pounds, walk more than half a block, or stand more than 10-15 minutes. R. 49-50. She sleeps 10-12 hours per night, spends at least half her morning and afternoon sitting watching television, no longer cooks, does her own laundry and cleans her apartment but not "like I should anymore." R. 45-46, 48. She testified that she was fired from a telemarketing job in July 2008 because she was depressed and missed work. R. 36-37. Before that, she was fired from a job as a secretary because she got confused answering the phone and running the switchboard. R. 38. At the time of the hearing, she worked 20 hours a week helping an elderly friend by keeping him company and doing his dishes. R. 35. While there, she testified that she does no lifting, stood or walked about a quarter of the time, earned about $800 a month, but expected the job to end within two weeks. R. 35-36.

Ms. Murphy testified that she also drank alcohol-a pint of vodka daily, R. 55, and probably 3-5 beers every couple of days, R. 33-but stopped drinking after being hospitalized for acute alcohol intoxication on July 30, 2009[2], R. 63. At the time of the hearing, she had been sober for one year and attended Alcoholics Anonymous. R. 56.

Medical examiner Dr. Michael Ravin also testified at the hearing. According to Dr. Ravin, Ms. Murphy suffered from depressive and personality disorders that caused her difficulty getting along with people. R. 64, 68. He limited her to simple, repetitive types of work, without the need to recall or carry out complex or detailed instruction or make decisions. R. 68. He testified that during the time she drank alcohol, she would have missed work 1-4 times a week due to the drinking and blackouts. R. 69. Dr. Ravin testified that limitation would have ended when she became sober. R. 70. However, the ALJ acknowledged that even after she became sober, Dr. Ravin found the following limitations remained:

there has been sobriety, since the time of her [July 31, 2009] hospitalization.... Since that time, there has existed mild limitation upon activities of daily living; the claimant has a moderate limitation, respectively, upon social functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace.

R. 13 (referring to Dr. Ravin's hearing testimony at R. 67).

Finally, a vocational expert testified about Ms. Murphy's prior positions and identified jobs she might still be able to perform based on hypotheticals presented by the ALJ. The vocational expert testified that the position of telemarketer is classified at the low end of semiskilled, but that as performed by Ms. Murphy was unskilled. R. 84. She further testified that a hypothetical employee able to lift/carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, able to sit, stand and walk up to six hours each eight-hour day, and able to understand, recall, focus upon, attend to, and carry out simple routine-repetitive instructions ...

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