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Hall v. Colvin

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

December 13, 2016

LINDA HALL Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          SIDNEY I. SCHENKIER United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Linda Hall has filed a motion seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and Disabled Widow's Benefits ("DWB")[2]under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act (doc. # 18). The Commissioner has filed her own motion seeking affirmance of the decision denying benefits (docs. ## 22, 23). For the following reasons, Ms. Hall's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.


         Ms. Hall applied for benefits on March 29, 2012, alleging she became disabled on March 22, 2012 (R. 21, 231-39). Her last insured date is December 31, 2016 (R. 20, 274). The application was denied initially on July 12, 2012, and upon reconsideration on December 12, 2012 (R. 149-52, 161-64). Ms. Hall, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on November 4, 2013 (R. 41-81). A vocational expert ("VE") also testified (R. 81-91). On March 25, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Hall was not disabled and denying her claim for benefits (R. 20-34). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Hall's request for review on July 13, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (R. 1-7). See Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 695 (7th Cir. 2012).


         We begin with a summary of the administrative record. Part A reviews Ms. Hall's medical history, Part B reviews the hearing testimony, and Part C summarizes the ALJ's opinion.


         Ms. Hall was born on October 18, 1961 and was fifty-two years old at the time of the hearing (R. 48). She left high school after her junior year and never completed a degree (Id.). Ms. Hall's past work includes working as a fast-food restaurant manager and as a cashier in a gas station (R. 81-82).

         On October 1, 2011, Ms. Hall sought emergency treatment at Provena St. Mary's Hospital after she fell off a horse and was trampled. An x-ray showed a left-shoulder separation in the acromioclavicular ("AC") joint, but no evidence of a fracture (R. 367). She was treated with prescription pain medication and released (R. 356).

         On March 21, 2012, Ms. Hall presented at Ingalls Memorial Hospital complaining of atypical chest pain (R. 473-81). She was admitted for observation but was released the next day after initial tests failed to confirm a myocardial infarction (R. 441, 486). On March 23, 2012, however, Ms. Hall again appeared at Ingalls Hospital complaining of severe chest pain. She was given intravenous heparin, an anticoagulant drug, and an electrocardiogram ("EKG") test (R. 441). Attending physician Sujith Sundararaj determined that she had experienced a non-ST myocardial infarction - that is, a heart attack that does not show a change in the ST segment elevation in an EKG test (Id.). Dr. Sundararaj noted that Ms. Hall had a longstanding history of high blood pressure and diabetes, but was "notoriously noncompliant" with treatments recommended for those disorders (Id.). A spiral CT exam showed no evidence of an aneurysm or pulmonary embolus (R. 467). A coronary angiography showed a ninety percent stenosis of Ms. Hall's left circumflex artery, and a stent was inserted to revascularize it (R. 413, 443). She was released from the hospital on March 26, 2012 and directed to continue taking aspirin, Plavix, an unspecified beta blocker, and nitroglycerin for her heart condition (R. 443, 445).

         A few weeks later on April 12, 2012, Ms. Hall's family physician Dr. R. Medavaram issued a brief assessment of her work abilities. Dr. Medavaram stated that she could only lift up to five pounds occasionally, stand or walk for less than one hour a day, and sit for less than two hours in an eight-hour workday (R. 403). Dr. Medavaram also opined that Ms. Hall could reach overhead and carry out fine and gross manipulation with her hands only occasionally (Id.).

         Five days later on April 17, Ms. Hall appeared once more at Ingalls Hospital complaining of chest pain. Dr. Sudarararj ruled out a further heart attack and attributed the pain to a musculoskeletal origin (R. 415). Ms. Hall was released with a notation that she was currently taking aspirin, insulin and metformin for diabetes, the hypertension medication lisonopril, the beta blocker metoprolol, Lipitor, and the anticoagulant Effient (Id.).

         On April 23, 2012, Ms. Hall completed a function report for the bureau of Disability Determination Services ("DDS") (R. 307-13). Ms. Hall described her activities of daily living ("ADL") as minimal.[3] She takes her medications after breakfast and then must take a nap to cope with the fatigue that results from them (R. 308). Ms. Hall can feed her cat and dog but is unable to walk the dog or clean the cat's litter box (Id.). She is able to shop for food once a week for thirty minutes, but Ms. Hall stated that she can only prepare meals such as sandwiches and microwave dishes that require five minute of work (Id.). Ms. Hall is able to wash dishes on some days but cannot do other household work because exertion makes her tired and gives rise to chest and leg pain (R. 309-310). She goes outside once or twice a week but only to go the grocery store (R. 311-12). Ms. Hall stated that she is able to walk one block before she needs to rest for fifteen minutes (R. 312).

         On November 6, 2012, psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Karr conducted a consultative examination of Ms. Hall for DDS and issued a written report (R. 625-28). Ms. Hall described daily activities corresponding with those set out in her DDS self-report (R. 625). She told Dr. Karr that she feels overwhelmed by activities such as going to church or playing with her grandchildren (Id.). She also stated that she depends on her daughter to do laundry, shopping, and household chores (R. 625-26). Ms. Hall claimed that she had briefly received treatment from a mental health professional when she was twelve but otherwise had no treatment history (R. 626). Ms. Hall reported that she was depressed, worried and unable to relax (Id.). Dr. Karr noted that Ms. Hall did not have any apparent cognitive difficulties, showed no interpersonal discomfort, and that her affect did not demonstrate any agitation or anxiety (Id.). He diagnosed her as suffering from a depressive order not otherwise specified ("NOS") (R. 628).

         A November 28, 2012 treatment note from Ingalls states that Ms. Hall had continued to have intermittent chest aching that was unrelated to exertion and which occurred randomly at different times during the day (R. 667). Her medication regime had expanded at that point to include amitriptyline, clopidogrel, fluconazole, insulin, metformin, magnesium oxide for a magnesium deficiency, metoprolol, a nicotine patch, enalapril, and pantoprazole, and the statin Crestor (R. 667-68).

         On December 5, 2012, Ms. Hall appeared once again at the Ingall's emergency room complaining of chest pain associated with nausea (R. 635). She was released after the pain resolved, and was urged to lose weight and continue with her medications (R. 636). The December 5 entry also noted that Ms. Hall's use of amitriptyline was designed to treat diabetic neuropathy (Id.). Ms. Hall had received a diagnosis of "possible neuropathy" at Stroger Hospital on July 12, 2012, when she complained of tingling in her hands (R. 604-05). An August 22 treatment entry explained that, in addition to hand tingling, Ms. Hall's blood sugar level had been poorly controlled in the past (R. 581). Insulin had first been prescribed to treat Ms. Hall's diabetes one month after the March 2012 heart attack (R. 612). Even then, her blood sugar level continued to be 255 in May 2012, 218 in July and August, and 261 in December (R. 583, 600, 613, 720). In December 2012, Ms. Hall was again diagnosed with possible diabetic neuropathy after she complained of burning in her feet (R. 719-20).

         On December 5, 2012, Dr. David Gilliland completed a psychological Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") assessment of Ms. Hall (R. 132-33). Dr. Gilliland reviewed Dr. Karr's November 2012 report, and concluded that Ms. Hall suffered from a non-severe affective disorder (R. 132). He stated that Ms. Hall's depression created only mild limitations in her ADLs, social functioning, and concentration, persistence and pace (R. 132-33). She had not experienced any episodes of decompensation (R. 133). One day later on December 6, 2012, Dr. Charles Kenney completed a physical RFC assessment of Ms. Hall that affirmed an earlier set of findings issued by state-agency expert Dr. Vidya Madala (R. 97-101, 122-26). Dr. Kenney found that Ms. Hall could lift and/or carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; could stand and/or walk for six hours in an ...

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