United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
B. Kim Magistrate Judge
Johnson applied for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) claiming that she is disabled by asthma,
sleep apnea, reflux disease, sciatica, a torn meniscus,
arthritis, heel spurs, morbid obesity, hypertension,
depression, and hypercholesterol. After the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration denied her application,
Johnson filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before the court are
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the
following reasons, Johnson's motion is denied, the
government's is granted, and the Commissioner's final
decision is affirmed:
applied for DIB in September 2011 claiming a disability onset
date of June 8, 2008. (Administrative Record
(“A.R.”) 18, 40, 193.) After her application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 18),
Johnson timely requested and was granted a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), (id.
at 103- 13). The ALJ held a hearing on May 20, 2013.
(Id. at 18.) On July 23, 2013, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Johnson's application. (Id. at
15-17.) When the Appeals Council denied Johnson's request
for review, (id. at 1-3), the ALJ's denial of benefits
became the final decision of the Commissioner, see
Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015).
Johnson filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision, (R. 1); see 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties consented to this
court's jurisdiction, (R. 5); see 28 U.S.C.
was 51 years old at the time of her May 2013 hearing. At the
hearing, she presented both documentary and testimonial
evidence in support of her application for DIB. (A.R. 18.) A
medical expert (“ME”) and a vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified at the hearing.
earliest report regarding Johnson's physical impairments
is a May 5, 2008 outpatient physical therapy evaluation.
(A.R. 40, 420.) Johnson reported a right-knee injury she
sustained a year earlier while carrying laundry up a set of
stairs, problems with asthma, occasional anxiety, arthritis,
back pain, hypertension, and shortness of breath.
(Id. at 422-23.) Johnson was diagnosed with
“[p]ersistant [right] knee pain, ” with a
decreased range of motion, decreased strength, and gait
deviations. (Id. at 420.) In June 2008,
Johnson's physical therapist reported that she was
ambulating without pain, that all of her physical therapy
goals had been met, and that she reported minimal pain and
stiffness when sitting for prolonged periods. (Id.
at 434.) According to Johnson, this pain and stiffness did
not interfere with her daily activities. (Id.) This
report took place four days after the alleged disability
2008, Dr. Cesar Herrera performed a transesophageal
echocardiogram and stress test. (Id. at 271-72,
347-48.) The echocardiogram showed mostly normal size in the
chambers of Johnson's heart with mild enlargement of the
left atrium. (Id. at 347.) The stress test was
terminated when Johnson began experiencing shortness of
breath. (Id. at 272.) Then in August 2008, Dr. Sarah
Alderman found mild obstructive sleep apnea during non-REM
sleep, which was treated and controlled with continuous
positive airway pressure (“CPAP”). (Id. at
are no relevant medical records after 2008, (see Id.
at 42), until May 2011 when Johnson was taken to a hospital
with complaints of non-radiating chest pain on her right
side, (id. at 40-42, 45, 274, 277-78, 327). The pain started
days earlier when Johnson was doing yardwork. (Id.
at 327.) She was admitted and released from the hospital
after one day. (Id.)
October 2011 Johnson reported unexplained weight gain and a
significant change in her emotional status since seeking care
for pain in her right shoulder, upper arm, back, and both
knees. (Id. at 468-69.) The following month, Johnson
underwent a consultative examination with Bureau of
Disability Determination Services (“DDS”)
physician Dr. Joseph Youkhana. (Id. at 494.) At her
examination Johnson denied any heart attack or heart failure.
(Id.) Dr. Youkhana documented the following
conditions: obesity; multi-joint pain, including her right
knee, right shoulder, and back; well-controlled hypertension;
mild and stable obstructive/restrictive lung disease; and
sleep apnea treated with a CPAP machine. (Id. at
496.) Johnson was found to have normal fine dexterity in both
hands. (Id. at 499.)
also evaluated Johnson's psychiatric issues. Dr. Myrtle
Mason conducted a psychological examination and noted that
Johnson's chief complaint was related to back pain,
sciatica, and knee pain. (Id. at 481, 483.) Johnson
reported treatment for emotional problems in 2000 when she
was prescribed Zoloft for approximately a year, without any
hospitalizations. (Id. at 485.) Johnson exhibited no
difficulties during a concentration test. (Id. at
488.) Dr. Mason calculated a Global Assessment of Function
(“GAF”) of 68, indicating that Johnson had
“[s]ome mild symptoms (e.g., depressed mood and mild
insomnia) OR some difficulty in social, occupational, or
school functioning (e.g., occasional truancy, or theft within
the household), but [was] generally functioning pretty well,
[and] has some meaningful interpersonal relationships.”
See Zabala v. Astrue, 595 F.3d 402, 405 n.1 (2d Cir.
2010) (citing Am. Psychiatric Assoc., Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, at 34 (4th ed.
rev. 2000)). Dr. Glen Pittman, a state agency medical
consultant, reviewed Johnson's psychiatric history and
found she has nonsevere affective disorder. (A.R. 504.)
December 2011 MRI of Johnson's right knee detected a torn
medial meniscus. (Id. at 530.) In January 2012, Dr.
Charles Mercier performed a partial medial meniscectomy
procedure on Johnson's right knee. (Id. at
537-39.) In April 2012, Johnson reported a setback in her
right knee following several days of yardwork and frequent
squatting. (Id. at 26, 679.) A few weeks later, DDS
physician Dr. C.A. Gotway concluded that Johnson is able to
function at the sedentary level because she reported no back
problems, walked without an assistive device, and had no
mental conditions causing more than slight limitations.
(Id. at 566-69.)
following year in February 2013, Dr. Desiree Fabros-Munez,
Johnson's treating physician, completed a Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) form for Johnson.
(Id. at 585.) She reported diagnoses of
osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine and pain in the knees and
the right shoulder. (Id.) She opined that Johnson
experiences frequent interference with attention and
concentration and that she can sit for no more than 30
minutes at one time, stand for no more than 15 minutes at one
time, and sit and stand for less than 2 hours per day.
(Id. at 586-87.) She further opined that Johnson
requires 5 minutes to walk around every 30 ...