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Moore v. Colvin

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

November 30, 2016

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



         Ernestine Moore filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), claiming that the combination of her degenerative joint disease and obesity renders her unable to perform full-time work. After the Commissioner of Social Security issued a final decision denying her applications, Moore filed the current lawsuit seeking judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3). Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Moore's motion is denied, the government's is granted, and the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed:


         Moore filed her SSI and DIB applications in January 2012, claiming a disability onset date of February 28, 2009. (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 160-72.) After her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 89-92), Moore sought and received a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), (id. at 32-88). On March 26, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Moore is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id. at 13-27.) The Appeals Council declined Moore's request for review, (id. at 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, see Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015). Moore timely filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); (R. 1), and the parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 7).


         In the years leading up to her claimed disability onset date, Moore finished one semester of college courses and worked as a personal assistant, a sales associate in a department store, and a mail handler with the U.S. Postal Service. (A.R. 39-41.) She claims that in February 2009, when she was 42 years old, she became disabled by chronic pain in her back and knees. (Id. at 44, 160.) Moore was represented by counsel at her hearing before the ALJ, where she presented documentary and testimonial evidence in support of her claims.

         A. Medical Evidence

         In April 2009, two months after her claimed disability onset date, Moore visited Dr. Louis Rohr, her treating physician. Moore complained of left elbow pain and vertigo when changing positions. (A.R. 279-80.) Dr. Rohr recorded her height as five feet five inches and her weight as 343 pounds. (Id. at 279.) He recommended weight loss and over the counter anti-inflammatory medication, and wrote that her knee pain was “resolved.” (Id.) Moore moved to Iowa shortly after this visit so the next time she saw Dr. Rohr was six months later when she reported being able to “walk a distance” unless her back was hurting. (Id. at 281-82.) Dr. Rohr noted that she had 1 pitting edema on both sides. (Id. at 281.) After that visit there is no evidence that Moore sought out medical treatment for the next year.

         Following that treatment gap and after moving back to Chicago, Moore visited Dr. Rohr in October 2010 and again reported that she was not in any pain. (Id. at 283-84, 299.) Dr. Rohr observed that she had run out of medication three weeks prior but that her leg swelling and hypertension had both resolved while she was off medication. (Id. at 283-84.) Moore next saw Dr. Rohr in June 2011 when she complained of sharp low back pains and pain in her right knee that was usually present while she was walking. (Id. at 285-86.) Notes from this appointment show that Moore's weight had increased to 385 pounds and that she was not taking pain medication. (Id. at 285.) Dr. Rohr wrote that her pain was likely caused by early osteoarthritis because of her obesity and he prescribed weight loss and Tylenol. (Id.)

         Six months later, in December 2011, Moore returned to Dr. Rohr complaining of right ankle pain, low-back pain, and discomfort in her hip and groin. (Id. at 289.) Although she reported that her ankle pain got worse with walking, she told Dr. Rohr that it improved with Ibuprofen and that she was walking for exercise. (Id.) Dr. Rohr described Moore as having morbid obesity and anemia but noted that she had no joint swelling or tenderness and no point tenderness in her back. (Id. at 289-90.) Dr. Rohr ordered an MRI of Moore's lumbosacral spine which showed probable degenerative disc disease at ¶ 3/4 and L5/S1 with facet joint arthropathy. (Id. at 292.) Dr. Rohr saw Moore again in February 2012 when she reported pain in her right knee and a painful left ankle. (Id. at 294.) Moore had been taking Naproxen for pain but she reported that it did not help her. (Id.) Dr. Rohr examined her and noted no effusion or crepitus but observed that she had tenderness in her medial joint line in her knees and in her ankle joint as well. (Id. at 295.) He increased Moore's Naproxen dosage to 500 mg and added a topical cream to treat her pain. (Id.) He also ordered an MRI of her knees, which showed mild to moderate bilateral bicompartmental degenerative changes with mild bilateral suprapatellar effusion. (Id. at 312.)

         In late February 2012, Moore reported to an emergency room after falling down and injuring her right ankle. (Id. at 344.) The hospital records show that she suffered soft tissue swelling but no fracture or other bony abnormality. (Id.) The following week Dr. Rohr evaluated Moore and characterized her injury as an ankle sprain, for which she was given Ibuprofen and Tylenol 3. (Id. at 365-67.) He noted that Moore was following instructions to use an ankle splint and crutches and that he observed mild lateral swelling around her ankles and a slight limitation in her ankle extension. (Id.) Moore saw Dr. Rohr a week later for a follow-up and complained that although she had stopped using crutches and her ankle splint, her ankle was still hurting. (Id. at 421.) Dr. Rohr observed that she still had mild ankle swelling but noted that she had normal strength in her ligaments and walked without a limp. (Id. at 422.)

         In March 2012, Moore underwent a consultative examination with internal medicine specialist Dr. Roopa Karri. (Id. at 320.) Dr. Karri noted that Moore had 2 pitting edema in her legs at the time of the exam, but that she was able to get on and off the exam table and walk 50 feet without support. (Id. at 322.) She further observed that Moore had swelling and tenderness in her knees, lumbar spine, shoulders, ankles, and feet, and that she could not heel/toe walk, squat, or perform a tandem gait. (Id.) Dr. Karri observed in her notes regarding the neurologic exam that Moore “had poor effort and complained of pain.” (Id.) But later she wrote that Moore's “[o]verall effort and cooperation were excellent.” (Id. at 323.) In the “Impression” section of her report Dr. Karri wrote that Moore's problems include history of hypertension, history of arthritis in multiple joints with decreased range of motion, anemia, and morbid obesity. (Id.)

         Nine days after the consultative examination, consulting physician Dr. Charles Kenney reviewed the medical records, including Dr. Karri's report, and submitted an opinion regarding Moore's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (Id. at 325-32.) Dr. Kenney opined that Moore can stand and walk for six hours and sit for six hours in an eight-hour day. (Id. at 326.) He further opined that she could frequently lift 10 pounds but only occasionally engage in postural activities like climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (Id. at 327.) In explaining his decision Dr. Kenney wrote that he found Moore's allegations only partially credible because Dr. Karri reported that she had made poor efforts during testing and because she was able to walk and perform daily activities without assistance. (Id. at 332.) Dr. Kenney opined that Moore's “allegations are exaggerated in comparison with the evidence” he reviewed. (Id.)

         In June 2012, Moore visited Dr. Rohr and reported that she had been experiencing constant pain in her right shoulder for over a month and that pain medication was not helping. (Id. at 356.) Dr. Rohr gave her “Ot and musculoskeletal referrals” and recommended that she continue with pain medications and a topical pain relief cream. (Id. at 357.) In August 2012, Moore returned to ...

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