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Lattanzio v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

January 19, 2017

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



         Plaintiff Joel Ramon Lattanzio (“Plaintiff”) appeals the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying him Social Security disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff seeks a judgment reversing the final decision or remanding it to a new Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for review. Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), seeks a summary judgment affirming the final decision. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted [dkt 13] and the Commissioner's motion is denied [dkt 21].


         I. Procedural History

         On July 26, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, with an alleged onset date (“AOD”) of January 20, 2011. R. 197- 98. On October 2, 2013, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his application. R. 114. On March 25, 2014, upon reconsideration, the SSA again denied his application. R. 124. On March 31, 2014, Plaintiff filed a formal written request for a hearing before an ALJ. R. 137- 38. On March 9, 2015, ALJ Kimberly S. Cromer conducted a hearing on Mr. Lattanzio's claim and took testimony from several witnesses. R. 51-105. Present and testifying were the Plaintiff, a Medical Examiner (“ME”), and a Vocational Examiner (“VE”). R. 19. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. R. 51. On March 23, 2015, ALJ Cromer held that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from January 20, 2011 through the date last insured (“DLI”), December 31, 2014. On May 20, 2015, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. R. 6-15. The Appeals Council (“AC”) declined to accepted jurisdiction, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-5. Plaintiff now seeks review of the ALJ's decision.

         II. Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff has not been employed since August 2009. R. 286. Since that time, he has suffered from a number of health crises, including: severe heart disease (subsequently resolved via surgical intervention); peripheral neuropathy; carpal tunnel syndrome; arthritis; gout; hypertension; and lower back pain. R. 21. Two recurring complaints are persistent, diffuse swelling of the feet and hands, and numbness and tingling of the fingers and feet.

         The Plaintiff's original claim for disability, which he filed on July 26, 2013, was the result of a conversation with a Social Security employee who noted that his hands were swollen and that he had difficulty with his hands when signing the paperwork. R.84. In the initial paperwork from August 26, 2013, the Plaintiff stated that he had “constant numbness in hands fingers” and “swollen hands” and that he could not “write or keyboard for long period of time.” R.244.

         On September 17, 2013, Dr. Roopa Karri performed a Consultative Exam (“CE”). Dr. Karri noted that the Plaintiff had complained that “his hands and feet feel numb and swollen all the time for the last 4 years.” R.404. Dr. Karri also reported that the Plaintiff had been dropping things, had poor grip, and could not open jars or bottles. R.404. Upon examination, Dr. Karri noted that the Plaintiff had “1 edema in the hands and feet” and “diffusely puffy fingers.” R.405. She also observed that the Plaintiff had “mild difficulty squeezing the blood pressure pump with either hand, ” and that that he could “button, zip and tie shoelaces, ” “make fists, ” and “oppose fingers.” Id. Dr. Karri determined that the Plaintiff's “grip strength is 4 in both hands.” Id.

         Shortly after Dr. Karri's CE, Dr. Ernst Bone wrote a Disability Determination Explanation, which was filed on October 1, 2013. R.106. In the Disability Determination, Dr. Bone reviewed Dr. Karri's CE and reported that based on the evidence from the CE, the Plaintiff's manipulative capacity was limited bilaterally for both handling and feeling, but was unlimited with regard to fingering. R.111. However, Dr. Bone also indicated that an additional CE was required because “[t]he evidence as a whole, both medical and non-medical, is not sufficient to support a decision on the claim. Additional evidence is required to establish current severity of the individual impairments.” R.108.

         On November 12, 2013, the Plaintiff's long-time treating physician, Dr. Behnke, referred him to Dr. Kahn of Northwest Neurology. R.427. At that time, Plaintiff reported a two- to three-year history of numbness and tingling in his feet and toes. R.427. Dr. Kahn reported that the Plaintiff had no sensation to pin in his fingers bilaterally, that he had “proximal weakness in his arms and legs, ” and that he had “distal sensory loss in his extremities, which is likely a peripheral neuropathy.” Id. The Plaintiff was referred for further testing. Id.

         On March 24, 2014, another Disability Determination was filed, this one by Dr. James Madison. R.115. In this Disability Determination, Dr. Madison reached the same conclusions regarding the Plaintiff's manipulative limitations that Dr. Bone had. R.121. Though more recent evidence had been submitted by the Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Madison based his conclusions regarding the Plaintiff's manipulative restrictions solely on Dr. Karri's September 2013 CE. Id. Unlike Dr. Bone, however, Dr. Madison concluded that no additional CE was required to establish the current severity of the impairments. R.118.

         On November 18, 2014, Dr. Kahn noted that the Plaintiff had no sensation to vibration in his fingertips and that “[h]is hands are numb every day upon awakening. With use, he has sharp pains from the mid-forearms shooting into his fingers.” R. 415. Subsequent testing revealed moderate to severe right carpal tunnel syndrome, moderate to severe left carpal tunnel syndrome, mild to moderate bilateral ulnar neuropathy at the elbow, and a “mildly active, moderate, length-dependent, sensorimotor, axonal peripheral neuropathy with sensory involvement of the upper extremities.” Id. Although Dr. Kahn did not directly assess the Plaintiff's fingering limitations, her notes and the accompanying imaging studies provide the medical evidence to support Plaintiff's symptoms. Correspondence between the Plaintiff and the Social Security Administration suggest that there have been subsequent developments in his condition; however, these records fall outside of the time period in review. Notice of Appeals Council Action, 2.

         III. Relevant ...

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