United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
ORDER AND OPINION
JONATHAN E. HAWLEY, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the Court are the Plaintiff, Carmen Lawson's,
Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 14) and the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Affirmance (D. 18). Both parties have
provided supporting Memoranda thereto. (D. 15, 19). For the
reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES the Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS the Defendant's
Motion for Summary Affirmance.
21, 2012, Lawson filed an application for Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) alleging disability beginning on August
29, 2001. Her claim for SSI was denied initially on August
10, 2012, and denied upon reconsideration on February 5,
2013. On March 12, 2013, Lawson filed a request for a hearing
on her application for Social Security benefits. Lawson
appeared at the hearing before the Honorable David W.
Thompson (ALJ) by video on March 5, 2014. She was represented
by an attorney. At the hearing, Lawson amended her alleged
onset date of disability to June 8, 2012. Following the
hearing, the ALJ denied Lawson's claim on April 21, 2014.
The Appeals Council denied Lawson's request for review on
July 24, 2015, making the ALJ's Decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Lawson filed the instant civil
action, seeking review of the ALJ's Decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c) on September 25, 2015.
time Lawson applied for SSI, she was 40 years old. She was
living in a mobile home, in Aledo, Illinois with her
boyfriend, who earns income. Lawson has a high school
education but has not worked since 2001. On the various SSA
forms she submitted, Lawson indicated that she has
pancreatitis which causes her pain and limits her ability to
hearing before the ALJ, Lawson testified that her bouts with
pancreatitis have increased over the last two years to
“several times a month.” (D. 7 at pg. 50). Lawson
said her bouts last anywhere from three days to a week,
during which time she either seeks treatment at a hospital or
lays down with a heating pad. She believes stress and diet
(either not eating enough, or eating the wrong foods)
triggers her pancreatitis attacks. Lawson has been
hospitalized due to the pain from her pancreatitis. The chief
remedy is a bland diet, after which Lawson's condition
stabilizes and she is released from the hospital.
(e.g. D. 7-3 at pg. 111).
approximately June of 2012-Lawson was unsure of the precise
date- she had stents put in her pancreas to ease her
condition. Lawson said the procedure lessened the pain. She
also testified that, on average, she has two bouts with
pancreatitis a month. As of March 2014, however, Lawson said
she had approximately 40 attacks in the past year. Five or
six of those attacks were the type she described as
stated that Doctor Wurzburger has been her primary care
physician for approximately two and a half years. Wurzburger
completed residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
questionnaires on Lawson in February 2103 and January 2014.
In both, Wurzburger estimated that Lawson would miss
approximately four days of work due to her pancreatitis
attacks. Lawson testified that she is unable to tend to her
normal household chores during her pancreatitis flare ups and
her boyfriend has to take care of them instead. She is on
Prilosec for her upset stomach as well as Vicodin and
ibuprofen to manage her pain, but they do not work well.
Expert, Brian Paprocki, also testified at Lawson's
hearing. He presented his finding that Lawson had a past
relevant work history as a waitress/cook, performed at a
light level. In answering questions from the ALJ, Paprocki
opined that if an employee were to miss four or more days of
work per month, they would be precluded from competitive
employment of any kind. He also stated that if an employee
were less than 80% productive on the job it would preclude
them from holding down competitive employment. In response to
questioning from Lawson's counsel, Paprocki further
explained that “two days per month, unexcused”
from work, or a productivity rate of 85%, would also preclude
Lawson from maintaining competitive employment. (D. 7 at pg.
closing, Lawson's counsel stressed that Wurzburger's
opinions should be given weight. Counsel concluded by stating
“We're here because the acute pancreatitis would
unexpectedly keep [Lawson] off work and lead to absenteeism
which would not be tolerated on any full-time, competitive
basis and that's the basis for her claim and that's
why we're here today.” Id. at pg. 58.
has, admittedly, struggled with alcohol abuse. She was
convicted of DUI in 2001 and lost her driver's license.
Lawson testified that she has not drank alcohol since 2005.
There is a notation in her medical records, however, from
March 2013 where medical staff documented that Lawson
admitted to “binge drinking” lately. Id.
at pg. 53; D. 7-3 at pg. 74, 86. At the hearing, Lawson
claimed the note is inaccurate.
Decision, the ALJ determined that Lawson had the severe
impairment chronic pancreatitis (20 CFR 416.920(c)). (D. 7 at
pg. 25). The ALJ crafted the following Residual Functional
Capacity for Lawson:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work
as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c).
Id. at pg. 28. In reaching that finding, the ALJ
recounted Lawson's testimony at the hearing regarding her
condition. Following protocol, he determined there was a
medical impairment reasonably expected to produce
Lawson's symptoms. The ALJ further found, however, that
in evaluating the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of Lawson's symptoms, he needed to make a finding
on the credibility of her statements “based on a
consideration of the entire case record” since her
statements were not “substantiated by objective medical
evidence[.]” Id. at pg. 28.
considering all of the evidence, the ALJ found Lawson's
statements “not entirely credible[.]”
Id. at pg. 29. He went on to explain that her claim
of complete and total disability could not be accepted. The
ALJ noted that Lawson's claims of extreme limited
functional capacity are not supported by the medical records.
He emphasized that, based on the record, Lawson's
compliance with treatment instructions-mainly diet-was
questionable. The ALJ supported this logic by citing
instances memorialized in Lawson's medical records where
she was implicated for drinking alcohol after 2005,
This evidence casts doubt on the claimant's credibility
and leads to a serious question about her drinking and her
denial of drinking at all since 2005. Whether the claimant is
drinking or not, the clear indication is that what she
consumes causes her pancreatitis episodes. Given these
findings, the undersigned cannot conclude that the claimant