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French v. Colvin

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

September 14, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Young B. Kim United States Magistrate Judge.

         Donald French filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) alleging that he is disabled because of left shoulder pain, chronic and severe neck pain, radiating pain and numbness in his arms and hands, and headaches. After the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denied his application, French filed this suit 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, French's motion for summary judgment is denied, the government's is granted, and the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed:

         Procedural History

         French filed his DIB application in January 2012 alleging a disability onset date of October 14, 2010. (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 197-98, 222.) After his claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, (id. at 73-74), French requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The hearing took place on September 4, 2013. (Id. at 27-72.) At the hearing, French amended his alleged onset date to a later date, July 23, 2011. (Id. at 33.) On September 27, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that French is not disabled and not entitled to DIB. (Id. at 8-21.) When the Appeals Council denied review, (id. at 1-6), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). French filed this action seeking judicial review, (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).


         On September 21, 2007, French was working as a machine operator at a manufacturing plant when he suffered injuries to his left shoulder and neck from an on-the-job accident. He was 42 years old at the time. French says that since his injury he has had debilitating and on-going pain in his neck and back and daily headaches. At his hearing before the ALJ, French presented both documentary and testimonial evidence in support of his DIB application.

         A. Medical Records

         After French injured his left shoulder and neck in 2007, he continued to feel pain despite undergoing treatment for his injuries. In April 2008, French underwent a surgical procedure to correct a rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder. (A.R. 499-500.) In December 2008, he received another corrective procedure to improve his left shoulder motion. (Id. at 502.)

         The following year, on August 13, 2009, Dr. Daniel Mulconrey performed a spinal fusion procedure to treat French's cervical spondylosis, upper extremity radiculopathy, and axial neck pain. (Id. at 503.) Dr. Mulconrey noted no complications during or after this procedure. (Id. at 505.) In March 2010 Dr. Mulconrey restricted French's lifting to 10 pounds for his left shoulder and 25 pounds for his cervical spine for three months. (Id. at 429.) Dr. Mulconrey noted that French continued to have some mild axial neck pain, as well as intermittent discomfort in his left shoulder, but wrote that he had improved since his last appointment. (Id. at 426.) In July 2010 Dr. Mulconrey ordered a cervical spine CAT scan which revealed no evidence of spinal stenosis and showed that his cervical vertebral alignment appeared normal. (Id. at 433.) On August 17, 2010, Dr. Mulconrey opined that French is “[t]otally unable to work from now until: 9/1/10. At 9/1/10 he will need to decide between proceeding with surgery” or a functional capacity evaluation. (Id. at 428.)

         On September 27, 2010, an MRI of French's cervical spine indicated small disc bulges but no significant stenosis in any area. (Id. at 396.) The following month Dr. Mulconrey performed a spinal fusion for his degenerative disc disease and stenosis. (Id. at 435.) After the procedure Dr. Mulconrey noted that French was in stable condition and suffered no post-operative complications. (Id. at 437.) In November 2010 French reported to Dr. Mulconrey that he was in too much pain to do physical therapy. (Id. at 411.) Dr. Mulconrey started French on Flexeril, a muscle relaxant, and continued with his Norco prescription. (Id.) In April 2011 French told Dr. Mulconrey that his headaches had dramatically improved since surgery, but that he continued to experience numbness in his upper extremity. (Id. at 407.) Dr. Mulconrey reviewed French's 2009 functional capacity evaluation restricting him to light work with a 10 to 20 pound lifting restriction and no work above chest level, and opined that these restrictions were reasonable. (Id.)

         Records indicate that from April 2010 through July 2013, French was a patient of Dr. Arnold Faber, who treated him for his chronic back and neck pains. (Id. at 506-34.) Dr. Faber diagnosed him with chronic pain syndrome and degenerative cervical radiculopathy. (Id. at 516.) In August 2010, Dr. Faber rated French as being 50% reduced in his ability to perform functions including sitting, standing, turning, pulling, and speaking, and wrote that he should not work until released by a surgeon. (Id. at 469.) In May 2011, Dr. Faber wrote that French had not been able to work since his accident because of pain and numbness and that he expected the disability to continue indefinitely. (Id.) Dr. Mulconrey noted in September 2011 that he did “not disagree” with Dr. Faber's assessment of French's condition and inability to work. (Id. at 403.) In April 2013, Dr. Faber examined French and again opined that he was more than 50 percent reduced in his ability to walk, bend, stand, stoop, sit, turn, climb, push, pull, and travel and in his ability to perform fine and gross manipulation. (Id. at 519.) A May 2013 MRI of French's lumbar spine showed mild degenerative irregularities and mild stenosis. (Id. at 529-30.)

         French visited Dr. Mulconrey again in July 2013, complaining of back and leg pain at a level of nine on a ten-point scale. (Id. at 535.) He also reported that standing and walking worsened the pain. (Id.) Dr. Mulconrey determined that French suffered from disc displacement, lumbar pain, and low extremity pain. (Id. at 536.) He recommended physical therapy as well as another epidural steroid injection. (Id. at 536-38.) Dr. Mulconrey wrote that French showed significant improvement with conservative treatment and noted that he expected continued improvement with physical therapy and steroid injections. (Id.)

         On Dr. Mulconrey's referral French went to a pain clinic in July 2013. (Id. at 541-42.) Dr. Eugene Becker examined French and noted that French used a cane to ambulate and had a decreased range of motion in the neck. (Id. at 541.) Dr. Becker also noted that French had significant disc herniation, and recommended that French undergo physical therapy. (Id. at 541-42.) French declined Dr. Becker's offer to administer an epidural steroid injection at that time, but indicated he would consider steroid injections in the future. (Id. at 542.)

         On March 10, 2012, Dr. Stanley Simon conducted a consultative examination for the Bureau of Disability Determination Services (“DDS”).[1] (Id. at 475-78.) Dr. Simon noted that French was able to get on and off the exam table without difficulty and walk more than 50 feet without support. (Id. at 477.) He also found that French was able to fully extend his hands and that the range of motion in his elbows and wrists was not limited. (Id.) Dr. Simon also noted that French had full range of motion of the lumbar spine but that he complained of dizziness during forward bending. (Id.) Dr. Simon concluded that French has chronic bilateral shoulder pain, a history of chronic neck pain, neuropathy of the hands, headaches, and hypertension. (Id. at 478.) He completed a Range of Motion form and noted significant limitations in the range for French's cervical spine and some limitations for his shoulder. (Id. at 481.) French's range of flexion for his right shoulder is 120/150 and for his left is 90/150. (Id.)

         That same month, medical consultant Dr. Richard Smith reviewed the medical records and completed a physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment for French. (Id. at 488-95.) Dr. Smith opined that French could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk at least two hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. (Id. at 489.) Because of decreased range of motion in both shoulders, Dr. Smith opined that French would be limited to reaching overhead only occasionally. (Id. at 491.) He further concluded based on the medical records that French's statements are partially credible because objective medical evidence does not support his allegations that he needs assistance dressing and showering. (Id. at 493.)

         B. ...

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