United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
EDMOND E. CHANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Payne brought this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental
Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Payne claims that he suffers from chronic
pain in his wrists, leaving him unable to work and therefore
eligible for disability benefits under the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. R. 1, Compl. The issue in this
case is whether the Administrative Law Judge correctly
established the onset date of Payne's disability. Payne
avers that he became disabled on June 1, 2006, but the
Administrative Law Judge found that Payne did not become
disabled until April 26, 2011. So Payne filed this motion to
reverse and remand the Administrative Law Judge's
decision, arguing that the Administrative Law Judge failed to
follow the Commissioner's regulations and rulings,
thereby committing an error of law. For the reasons set forth
below, Payne's motion is granted and the matter is
remanded for further proceedings.
first applied for disability benefits on January 3, 2009. R.
10, Administrative Record (“AR”) at 33. In his
application, he alleged a disability onset date of June 1,
2006. Id. at 33, 176, 187. Payne's
application initially was denied on January 26, 2010, and
denied again on reconsideration on May 17, 2010. Id.
at 33. He then requested a hearing in front of an
Administrative Law Judge, which was held on March 8, 2012.
Id. Following the hearing, the Administrative Law
Judge issued an opinion establishing Payne's disability
onset date as April 26, 2011 and granting Payne's
application for benefits after that date, but denying his
request for benefits before that date. Id. at
33-40. The Appeals Council declined Payne's request for
review on July 31, 2013, rendering the Administrative Law
Judge's ruling the final decision of the Commissioner.
Id. at 1; see Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d
558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009). Payne filed his Complaint with
this Court in February 2014, seeking review of the
Administrative Law Judge's decision. See Compl.
Administrative Record supplies the factual background of this
case. At the time of his hearing in front of the
Administrative Law Judge, Payne was 50 years old and had some
high school education. AR at 71, 100, 176, 227. From 1986 to
1987, Payne worked as a bus driver. Id. at 223. After
that, Payne started working as a cable television installer
in 1989, a job that frequently required him to climb ladders
and lift 25-pound weights. Id. at 242. In 1993,
while on the job, Payne fell from a ladder, cracking his
skull and breaking both of his arms. Id. at 247. He
was hospitalized for several weeks and underwent
reconstructive surgery on both wrists. Id. at 305.
Payne continued to work as a cable installer until 1999,
also started working as a delivery truck driver in
1997. Id. at 223. His duties as a truck
driver included restocking food products inside a trailer and
unloading the products off of the truck. Id. at 224.
Sometime in 2005 or 2006, Payne's employer “let
[him] go because [he] couldn't perform the duties”
anymore. Id. at 71-72. Payne has been unemployed
claims that he became disabled on June 1, 2006 because, as of
that date, the pain and impairment caused by the bilateral
arthrodesis of his wrists rendered him unable to work.
AR at 35. But because of the scarcity of his medical records
before 2011, there is no documentation of exactly what
medical impairments he had on this date. Payne does
provide notes from a visit to Dr. Antony George in September
2009. Id. at 297-302. Although the
purpose of the visit was to address Payne's complaints of
headache-related pain, Dr. George noted that Payne also
suffered from “chronic wrist pain.” Id.
at 300. The Administrative Record also states that Payne was
treated at Oak Park Medical in January and March 2010, but
the Record does not contain treatment notes from either of
those visits. Id. at 256. In the Record, Payne
claims that he was treated by Drs. Hegde and Vest from 2010
to 2012 and Dr. Sarpy from 2011 to 2012. Id. at 283.
November 2009, Payne underwent a consultative examination
with Dr. Anand Lal in connection with his application for
disability benefits. AR at 305-14. In his post-examination
report, Dr. Lal stated that Payne had “atrophy of the
wrist muscles, ” limitations in flexion and extension
in both wrists, and moderate to severe difficulty gripping
and squeezing. Id. at 309, 312. At the examination,
Payne also reported headaches and poor vision, which he was
doing little to treat due to his inability to afford glasses
or pain medication. Id. at 305. Dr. Lal recorded
that Payne had stuttered for most of his life, but his speech
at the time of the examination was normal. Id. at
313. Dr. Lal concluded that Payne's condition consisted
of: restriction in the range of motion of both wrists;
partial atrophy and chronic pain in both wrists; impaired
vision; post-traumatic cephalalgia; history of depression;
peripheral arterial disease; stuttering; and history of
headaches. Id. at 314.
also underwent a psychiatric examination as part of his claim
for disability benefits. He saw Dr. Ana Gil in December 2009.
AR at 315-19. Dr. Gil concluded that Payne had moderately
severe depressive disorder and noted that he stuttered when
he spoke. Id. at 318-19.
agency physician Dr. Young-ja Kim completed a Physical
Residual Function Capacity Assessment of Payne in January
2010. AR at 334-41. The assessment noted that Payne could
frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds; occasionally lift
and/or carry twenty pounds; sit, stand, or walk about six
hours in an eight-hour workday; and push or pull without
limitation. Id. at 335. According to Dr. Kim's
assessment, Payne could occasionally climb stairs, stoop,
kneel, crouch crawl, and balance, but could never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Id. at 336. He also
had difficulty with gross and fine manipulation. Id.
at 337. Finally, Dr. Kim recorded that Payne had limited
ability to see faraway objects but did not have communicative
limitations. Id. at 337-38.
April 2011, Payne was found to have an “acute fracture
in the distal left ulna” (that is, a fracture in his
forearm, closer to the wrist than the elbow). AR at 346. When
Payne visited Dr. Dinraj Hegde in May 2011, the doctor
recorded that Payne had a fractured forearm and chronic pain
syndrome but the pain was not affecting Payne's activity
level. Id. at 371-72. Payne had follow-up
appointments in May and June 2011 for his fracture.
Id. at 345-46.
next examination was with Dr. Vest in October 2011. AR at
363-68. His chief complaint was “pain in both legs and
hands, ” which he rated an 8 out of 10. AR at 363.
After the examination, Dr. Vest completed a Headache and
Chronic Pain Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire.
Id. at 409-20. The questionnaire stated that Payne
had headaches roughly three times per week, with each
headache lasting 30 to 45 minutes. Id. at 409. In
addition, Payne suffered from constant wrist pain that
affected his ability to concentrate. Id. at 413. The
questionnaire further noted that, although Payne was
physically capable of working low-stress jobs, he could only
sit, stand, or walk for 45 minutes at a time before he would
need to change position. Id. at 414. Even then,
Payne would need a ten-minute unscheduled break each hour,
could never carry any object more than ten pounds, and could
only rarely carry objects less than ten pounds. Id.
at 415-16. Plus he would have to take three unscheduled
30-minute breaks each week and would likely miss work at
least four times per month. Id. at 411-12.
making his decision, the Administrative Law Judge relied on
statements and testimony from Payne and two experts-Dr. Ashok
Jilhewar, the medical expert, and Glee Ann Kehr, the
vocational expert-in addition to the medical records
described above. In the Administrative Record and at the
hearing, Payne described his physical condition and its
effects on his daily life. He stated that, starting in 2006,
he began having problems with pain and arthritis. AR at 247.
He could stand and walk, but had to sit down again after half
an hour. Id. at 80. Payne could lift only a couple
of pounds-he could not lift a gallon of milk or a case of
soda pop-and, even then, frequently dropped things.
Id. at 80, 88. These physical limitations impacted
his ability to go about his day-to-day life. Arthritis
prevented him from preparing food or doing household chores,
and impeded his ability to dress, bathe, and feed himself.
Id. at 231, 233-34. Poor eyesight kept him from
reading. Id. at 78-79. Payne reported that his day
consisted of brushing his teeth, washing his face, watching
television until his “eyes [went] blurry, ” and
laying down. Id. at 229. In order to manage his
pain, Payne took a number of medications, including Motrin,
Tylonel, Baclofen, Tramadol, Risperdone, Diphenhydramine,
Ibuprofen, and Wellbutrin. Id. at 226, 268, 284,
Jilhewar, the medical expert, testified at the March 2012
hearing. He consulted Payne's medical record, but did not
examine Payne himself. AR at 51. Dr. Jilhewar noted that the
first documentation of a severe impairment in the record was
the report from Dr. Lal's consultative examination in
November 2009. Id. at 52. Dr. Jilhewar summarized
Payne's condition as “[a]rthrodesis of both wrists,
sometime in 1993, by a self-report, resulting in significant
degrees in a range of movement of both wrists, and degrees in
grip strength … and absence of specific management of
the problem in the medical records.” Id. at
54. Although the doctor noted that Payne had complained of
headaches since 1993, Dr. Jilhewar testified that the medical
record did not contain any specific information on the
management of headaches, with the exception of an Emergency
Room visit in September 2011 that resulted in a normal CT
scan. Id. at 55. Nor did the medical record contain
any information on the management of chronic pain, pain
consultation, or the prescription of narcotics on a
consistent basis, thus precluding Dr. Jilhewar from
testifying that Payne suffered from chronic pain.
Id. at 57. Dr. Jilhewar concluded that Payne could
perform light physical work, but would only be able to handle
objects occasionally. Id. at 59.
the vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. Kehr
classified Payne's previous job as a truck driver as
semi-skilled work with moderate physical demand. AR at 90-97.
The Administrative Law Judge then posed three hypotheticals,
which required Kehr to identify the types of jobs that a
hypothetical person with the limitations described by the
Administrative Law Judge would be able to perform.
Id. In the first hypothetical, the Administrative
Law Judge asked about the jobs available to a person of
Payne's age, education, and work experience, with the
following abilities and limitations: able to lift up to
twenty pounds occasionally; able to lift or carry up to ten
pounds frequently; able to stand or walk six hours in an
eight-hour workday; able to sit eight hours in an eight-hour
workday; able to take normal breaks; unable to climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; unable to crawl, but able to crouch and
kneel; able to perform fine manipulations frequently but
gross manipulations only infrequently; and unable to work in
a profession requiring frequent verbal communications.
Id. at 91-92. Kehr responded that such a person
would not be able to work as a truck driver (which was
Payne's previous job), nor could he work in any
other position, because there were no occupations that did
not require either frequent verbal communication or frequent
gross manipulation. Id. at 92.
second hypothetical, the Administrative Law Judge asked Kehr
to assume the same facts and limitations as the first
hypothetical, but strike the limitation on verbal
communication. AR at 92-93. Kehr testified a person with such
traits could work as an usher, a counter clerk, or as a
rental clerk. Id. at 93. All three occupations were
available in the Chicago metropolitan area and were
classified as light and unskilled work. Id.
the Administrative Law Judge asked Kehr to assume the same
facts and limitations of the second hypothetical, except that
the person's work would be limited to simple, routine,
repetitive tasks with only occasional interaction with the
public and co-workers. AR at 95. Kehr testified that such a
person would be precluded from working. Id.
Disability Determination Process
Social Security Act defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The test
requires the Commissioner to consider: (1) whether the
claimant has performed any substantially gainful activity
during the period for which he claims disability; (2) if he
has not performed any substantial gainful activity, whether
the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment,
whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals any
impairment listed in the regulations as being so severe and
of such duration as to preclude substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed
impairment, whether the claimant retains the residual
functional capacity to perform his past relevant work; and
(5) if the claimant cannot perform his past relevant work,
whether he is able to perform any other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Id.;
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir.
answer to steps one or two is “no”-that is, the
claimant performed substantially gainful activity and/or
lacks a severe impairment-the Commissioner will reach a
finding of “not disabled.” See Zurawski,
245 F.3d at 886. Otherwise, the Commissioner moves on to step
three. If step three is answered in the affirmative, and the
claimant's impairment is listed as one that precludes
substantial gainful activity per se, then the claimant is
found to be disabled. Id. If not, the Commissioner
must determine the claimant's residual functional
capacity-that is, the sort of work that the claimant can
still perform given his impairment(s)-and assess whether that
capacity allows the claimant to perform either his past work
(step four) or any other work existing in significant numbers
in the national economy (step five). Id. If it does
not, then the claimant is disabled. Id. The claimant
bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. ...