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Johnson v. Colvin

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

August 25, 2016

RUTHIE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Young B. Kim Magistrate Judge

         Ruthie 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:

         Procedural History

         Johnson 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. § 636(c).

         Background

         Johnson 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. (Id.)

         A. Medical Evidence

         The 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 onset date.

         In July 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”).[1] (Id. at 269-70.)

         There 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.)

         In 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.)

         DDS 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)).[2] Dr. Glen Pittman, a state agency medical consultant, reviewed Johnson's psychiatric history and found she has nonsevere affective disorder. (A.R. 504.)

         A 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.)

         The 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 ...


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