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Hill v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

March 29, 2017

LAWRENCE J. HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Richard Mills, United States District Judge.

         Lawrence J. Hill seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the administrative law judge's decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits.

         Pending are motions for summary judgment filed by both parties.

         Plaintiff's motion is allowed.

         The case is remanded.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Lawrence J. Hill, who was born in 1965, is a high school graduate with two years of college and has worked as a heating and air conditioning service technician. He filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 12, 2011, alleging he had been disabled since March 11, 2010 following a car accident. The Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.

         The Plaintiff and his attorney appeared before an administrative law judge (ALJ) for a hearing. ALJ Diane Flebbe rendered a decision in April 2013 concluding that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light or sedentary work subject to certain limitations. The ALJ further determined that jobs existed in significant numbers which the Plaintiff could perform. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Medical evidence

         The Plaintiff injured his left knee, right shoulder, head and neck in the car accident. Fractures were ruled out in the emergency room. He was given an immobilizer due to a possible sprain of the knee ligaments. The Plaintiff continued to have pain and was sent to Ronald Romanelli, M.D., an orthopedic specialist. Dr. Romanelli observed his antalgic gait, his clinical signs and his difficulty getting in and out of the chair. The Plaintiff was sent for an MRI, which showed intact menisci, cruciate and collateral ligaments; a full thickness cartilage defect; a large cyst and joint effusion. He was given a cortisone shot, which did not really help, and continued to have “obvious swelling.” The Plaintiff was scheduled for arthroscopy in June 2010. Dr. Romanelli observed clinical signs of injury. The arthroscope disclosed patellofemoral problems consistent with dashboard signs of injury. Dr. Romanelli observed a microfracture of the femoral head. He did extensive debridement.

         Following the procedure, the Plaintiff was concerned about the swelling. He was told to ice the knee and take medications. There was still swelling at his next two appointments. The Plaintiff needed a wheelchair because crutches were not workable due to his large size. Swelling was persistent and was noted as a problem in therapy. The therapist noted that his left knee was about 4 cm larger than his unimpaired right knee. The Plaintiff was prescribed a cold compression unit. The Plaintiff was able to use the therapy bike for six minutes but it caused increased pain. His problems persisted after weeks of therapy. The therapist again measured him and determined the Plaintiff had measurable swelling in the left knee. Dr. Romanelli observed “less” swelling after eleven weeks and therapy. Dr. Romanelli again observed swelling more than four months after the surgery, but noted that Plaintiff was doing better.

         By October 2010, the Plaintiff was able to hit 18 golf balls without increased pain. When he tried to walk for 40 minutes, however, the Plaintiff had notable pain and fatigue. Soon thereafter, the Plaintiff stated that his knee “blowed up” following his last therapy. He believed that he tried to do too much in terms of testing the knee. On November 3, 2010, the therapist measured the swelling and it had increased by nearly a centimeter since the start of therapy. Two days later, Dr. Romanelli noted that Plaintiff continued to complain of pain and discomfort. However, he found “no abnormalities” and noted that “we need to get him back to work.” On November 24, 2010, the Plaintiff's knee was measured before and after therapy. The range of motion decreased and swelling increased following therapy. On December 3, 2010, Dr. Romanelli said that Plaintiff is “still having a significant amount of swelling and effusion, which I cannot explain.” “He still has a difficult time walking and walks with an antalgic gait.” An MRI showed a small ruptured Baker's cyst, fluid collection in the bursa and edema, with thinning cartilage and a subtle subchondral lesion.

         On January 7, 2011, Dr. Romanelli noted that Plaintiff still had some swelling but less so. Dr. Romanelli referred the Plaintiff back to the clinic and hoped he could return to work. Dr. Romanelli noted a procedure like ...


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