United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
I. Schenkier, Magistrate Judge
Karen Murphy ("Ms. Murphy" or "plaintiff) has
filed a motion seeking reversal and remand of the partially
favorable decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") finding that Ms. Murphy was
disabled and entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB") as of April 13, 2007, but that her
disability -- and thus her disability benefits -- ended on
December 1, 2008 because medical improvement occurred (doc. #
7: PL's Mot. for Summ. J. at 1). The Commissioner has
filed a response asking the Court to affirm its decision
(doc. # 19: Def.'s Resp.). For the reasons that follow,
we deny Ms. Murphy's motion and affirm the
Commissioner's decision to award benefits for a closed
period from April 13, 2007 to December 1, 2008.
Murphy originally filed her application for DIB on September
29, 2008, alleging she became disabled on April 13, 2007 (R,
753). In November 2010, an administrative law judge
("ALJ") recommended that Ms. Murphy's
application be denied in its entirety (R. 13-28), and the
Appeals Council adopted the recommendation and denied
benefits (R. 1-8). After exhausting her administrative
remedies, Ms. Murphy sought review in federal district court,
which affirmed the ALJ's decision. However, the Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to
the agency for further proceedings. Murphy v.
Colvin, 759 F, 3d 811 (7th Cir. 2014). Another ALJ held
a hearing on June 10, 2015, and on November 4, 2015, the ALJ
issued a partially favorable opinion, finding that Ms. Murphy
was disabled from April 13, 2007 through November 30, 2008,
but that her disability ended on December 1, 2008 (R.
748-65). The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's
determination, making it the final opinion of the
Commissioner (R. 898-901). See 20 C.F.R §
404.981; Shaugerv. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 695 (7th
April 13, 2007, Ms. Murphy suffered an acute cerebrovascular
accident (CVA or stroke); specifically, a left carotid artery
dissection with left cerebral infarction (tear in arterial
wall and obstruction of blood supply) (R. 434-36,
442).Once discharged, Ms. Murphy received
treatment from neurologist, Joseph H. Mayer, M.D., at Pronger
Smith Medical Care ("Pronger"). For the remainder
of 2007, Ms. Murphy presented with occasional right arm and
hand numbness and pain, right hand loss of proprioception
(sense of position and spatial orientation), mild aphasia
(difficulty communicating), and headaches (see,
e.g., R. 306-12, 317-18, 321, 335, 338-40, 346, 529-31,
541, 549-51). During certain periods in 2007, she received
physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy for
these symptoms (R. 543-45).
resonance angiography ("MRA") of the carotid
vessels in March 2008 showed that the degree of stenosis
(narrowing) in Ms. Murphy's left internal carotid artery
had improved since an MRA in May 2007, but stenosis was still
approximately 70 percent (R. 300, 358-59). In April 2008, Dr.
Mayer reported that Ms. Murphy "still noted waxing and
waning paresthesias [pins and needles sensations] over the
right side of her body" and there was a moderate
decrease in proprioception on the right side; at that time,
her primary complaint was nightly headaches, which preceded
her stroke (R. 300). Ms. Murphy's speech was generally
fluent, but she had some mild word retrieval difficulty
(Id.). She had good muscle strength and tone in all
four extremities, rapid alternating finger movements were
normal, and her gait and tandem gait were normal
2008, Dr. Mayer noted that Ms. Murphy's headaches were
"clearly improved;" she did not use her
prescription for gabapentin (nerve pain medication) and she
occasionally took Fioricet (an analgesic) when
over-the-counter medications did not help (R. 299). Ms.
Murphy's speech was fluent, and her rapid alternating
finger movements, gait, and tandem gait were normal
(Id.). In September 2008, however, Ms. Murphy had
right sided hand and foot pains, which caused her to drop
things (R. 645). On October 31, 2008, Ms. Murphy reported to
Dr. Mayer that her headaches were more frequent, and she was
frustrated that the sensation in her right hand was
"still quite bad" and she still had "some
difficulty with speech" (R. 690). Ms. Murphy also
demonstrated "severely diminished proprioception in the
right hand" (Id.). Dr. Mayer rated the rest of
her examination - speech strength, rapid alternating finger
movements, gait and tandem gait - as normal, good or
"fairly good, and he doubted that Ms. Murphy's
headaches were related to her stroke (Id.). On
December 15, 2008, Ms. Murphy had a follow-up MRA of her
carotids, which showed approximately 60 percent stenosis of
the high cervical left internal carotid artery and
recanalization (reopening) of the previous left internal
carotid artery dissection (R. 584). The MRA showed no other
stenosis (R. 585).
latter half of 2008, Ms. Murphy also complained to her
physician about heel pain (R. 294). Imaging from September
2008 showed that she had moderate plantar fasciitis
(inflammation of the tissue) on her left heel (R. 293). On
October 31, 2008, Ms. Murphy visited podiatrist Steven
French, DPM, who injected her left heel with a corticosteroid
for inflammation and Lidocaine (anesthetic) for the pain (R.
651). Ms. Murphy was also treated with orthotics and a splint
January 24, 2009, Ms. Murphy went to the hospital with
shortness of breath and chest tightness, and she was
prescribed aspirin and discharged the next day (R. 672-74).
Hospital records noted that Ms. Murphy "has improved
significantly" from right hemiplegia (single side arm
and hand weakness) and dysphasia (language impairment)
resulting from stroke (R. 673-74). On March 3, 2009, Ms.
Murphy followed up with a physician's assistant
("PA") at Pronger (R. 733). The PA noted that Ms.
Murphy had a normal gait and 5/5 motor strength throughout,
and that her status post CVA was "currently stable with
no significant change" (Id.).
October 14, 2009, Ms. Murphy visited her primary care
physician at Pronger complaining of frequent headaches (R.
727). She also stated that she had sharp pains and
paresthesias in her right side arms and feet, which had been
"ongoing ever since" her stroke (R. 727-28).
Nevertheless, she was "still able to do anything with
the arm, " and her neurologic exam was essentially
normal (R. 728-29). On December 21, 2009, Ms. Murphy returned
to Dr. Mayer for the first time since October 2008 (R. 722).
She complained of numbness over the right side of her body,
headaches, pain along the neck (muscular in nature), and
forgetfulness (Id.). Dr. Mayer noted that Ms.
Murphy's speech was "quite fluent, " she had
good strength in all four extremities, her gait was stable
and she showed no loss of balance (R. 722-23). However, rapid
alternating finger movements were "slightly slower"
and proprioception was "moderately diminished" in
the right hand (Id.). Dr. Mayer noted that her last
MRA showed Ms. Murphy "overall ... has made a very good
recovery" from her stroke, but "she remains very
frustrated with her persistent deficits" (R. 723).
23, 2010, Ms. Murphy and her husband appeared and testified
before an ALJ (R. 1094). Ms. Murphy testified that she could
only drive and stand for a short while before her foot or leg
went numb, though her plantar fasciitis was "getting
better" (R. 1101, 1131-33). At the time of the hearing,
Ms. Murphy could do things like write and tie her shoes, and
the ALJ observed she was "talking very well" that
day (R. 1118, 1125). However, she still had occasional sharp
pain in her right arm, and she had trouble distinguishing hot
from cold (R. 1125-26). Ms. Murphy's husband testified
that she still had problems trying to find the right word (R.
1136), and she was very forgetful (R. 1139-40). She also had
trouble picking things up because she could not sense how
much pressure she was using (R. 1159). Mr. Murphy stated that
his wife's arm and leg pain kept her up at night so she
had to lay down sometimes during the day (R. 1162).
explained above, the first ALJ who heard the case recommended
an unfavorable decision, which the Appeals Council adopted,
and a remand by the Seventh Circuit followed. After remand, a
new ALJ held a hearing on June 10, 2015. At that hearing, Ms.
Murphy testified there that she never "totally" got
back to normal after her stroke (R. 784). It took her 12 to
18 months after her stroke to read and drive again (R. 785,
789). The parties stipulated to her husband's testimony
from 2010 (R. 791).
medical expert ("ME") in neurosurgery, Karl
Manders, M.D., then testified by telephone. He opined that
Ms. Murphy met Listing 12.02 for neurocognitive disorders,
secondary to stroke, pain, right extremity weakness and
speech difficulty "for a period of 18 months at
least" from the date of her stroke (R. 793-95). Dr.
Manders added that Ms. Murphy met Listing 12.02 "in the
first year and a half, two years . . ." (R. 795). Dr.
Manders also opined that Ms. Murphy met Listing 11.04A and B
(for vascular insult to the brain) for "up to two years,
" because there was evidence of aphasia, ineffective
speech, and persistent disorganization of motor function of
her arm and leg (Id.).
Manders testified that the records from 2009 and beyond
showed Ms. Murphy had "a very good neurological
recovery" (R. 794), because she had full motor power,
normal gait and essentially normal neurological examination,
and her speech difficulty was "minimal" (R. 796).
He opined that "by '09 . . . she had made pretty
much full recovery except for some subjective complaints,
" and Ms. Murphy did not meet a listing "probably
after two years" (R. 797). Upon further review of the
October 31, 2008 medical report, Dr. Manders stated that Ms.
Murphy would not meet a listing as of that date (R. 799-800).
While proprioception difficulties would cause trouble with
fine manipulation with her right hand, it would not
"impact on her ability to function another way, grossly
with manipulation, " and Ms. Murphy would have no limits
on her speech or her ability to stand, walk or sit (R.
800-04). Dr. Manders also stated that headaches or dizziness
would not ...