United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Johnston, United States Magistrate Judge.
Bradley J. Thompkins brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), challenging the denial of disability benefits.
As explained below, Thompkins's motion for summary
judgment is granted; the Administration's motion is
denied; and this case is remanded.
end of 2013, Thompkins had undergone three spinal surgeries:
an anterior discectomy and fusion at both the C5/6 and C6/7
levels, a decompressive laminectomy at the C5-7 levels, and a
lumbar discectomy. During much of that time, until August
2012, Thompkins was treated by Dr. Bernard O'Malley. On
May 16, 2012, Dr. O'Malley filled out a questionnaire
concerning Thompkins's residual capacity, and concluded
that-without going into unnecessary detail-Thompkins suffered
from pain in his back and numbness in his hands that
significantly limited his ability to sit or stand for even a
moderate period of time or to grasp or do fine manipulations
of objects with his hands. Dr. O'Malley also indicated
that Thompkins would need to miss more than four days of work
a month. However, on June 29, 2012, an administrative law
judge (ALJ) with the Social Security Administration rejected
that opinion stating, in part, “Dr. O'Malley
alludes to left arm restriction. All the chart notes describe
right upper extremity symptoms, when they are asserted.
Therefore, the source is only loosely familiar with the
patient's progress.” (R. 163.) The ALJ denied
Thompkins's petition for benefits. Thompkins appealed
that denial, but it was made final after the Appeals Council
denied Thompkins's request for review and he did not file
a complaint in federal court.
weeks after the ALJ denied benefits, on July 20, 2012, Dr.
O'Malley authored a second opinion, in which he said the
Mr. Thompkins has neck and low back pain. He had two
surgeries in his neck on anterior and posterior approaches.
He has constant grinding sensation and numbness in both hands
in first three digits bilaterally.
He is totally disabled due to pain and numbness. He has poor
ability to twist, bend, and raise his arms. The low back
limits these activities. He has problems with fine motor
ability. He has trouble grasping fine objects such as tape.
He has no options at this time having seen neurosurgery and
pain management. He is and remains totally disabled.
(R. 708.) This opinion was based, as best as the record can
show, on previous examinations and, critically for
this opinion, a follow-up visit with Dr. O'Malley on July
20, 2012. Thereafter, Thompkins began to see Dr. Kevin J.
Gander as his primary care physician. During that time,
Thompkins had his third back surgery and fell twice, which he
reported aggravated his condition. Over the next two years,
Dr. Gander examined Thompkins many times and sent him for
consultations, physical therapy, a functional capacity
assessment, an EMG, and pain management. On September 17,
2014, Dr. Gander drafted a letter which stated, in its
entirety, that “Bradley J. Thompkins has been followed
for chronic back and neck pain and upper extremity
paresthesias, and is currently unable to work. He will be
rechecked in 3 months.” (R. 1730.)
adjudicating the instant petition held two hearings. At the
first, on June 9, 2014, the ALJ accepted testimony from a
medical expert named Dr. Laura Rosch and a vocational expert.
The ALJ then permitted Thompkins's attorney to have
Thompkins referred for another functional capacity assessment
(FCA) and held a supplemental hearing on December 2, 2014. At
that hearing, the ALJ accepted testimony from a different
medical expert named Dr. Sai Nimmagadda and another
vocational expert. In short, both Drs. Rosch and Nimmagadda,
who testified largely in conformity with each other, opined
that the medical record supported some limitations to
Thompkins's ability to manipulate and grasp with his
hands and some restrictions on his sitting, standing, and
walking, but not to the degree opined by Drs. O'Malley or
Gander. The ALJ assigned great weight to Dr. Nimmagadda's
conclusions and “some weight” to Dr. Rosch's
conclusions, but “little weight” to Dr.
O'Malley's opinions and none at all to Dr.
Gander's. In setting out his reasoning concerning Dr.
O'Malley, the ALJ stated the following:
The undersigned agrees with the prior hearing decision giving
little weight to the May 2012 opinion of Dr. O'Malley,
the primary care physician. Dr. Nimmagadda specifically
testified that, in his opinion, the degree of functional
limitation assessed by Dr. O'Malley is not supported by
the doctor's own findings or the other substantial
evidence of record.
(R. 188.) In another section, the ALJ also stated the
The undersigned asked Dr. Nimmagadda if there was evidence to
support Dr. O'Malley's assessment that the claimant
would likely be absent from work more than four days per
month as a result of the impairments or treatment. “I
do not see that substantiated in the record, ” Dr.
Nimmagadda stated. “It isn't noted in the record
that he is required to stay in bed all day.”
(R. 187.) Finally, in dealing with Dr.
O'Malley's opinions and the effect of the previous