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Strickland v. Colvin

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

April 5, 2017

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



         Kimberly F. Strickland seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the administrative law judge's decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits.

         Both parties seek summary judgment.


         The Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 8, 2011. She alleged an onset date of August 10, 2011. Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. She requested a hearing which was held on May 1, 2013. Administrative Law Judge Barbara J. Welsch issued a written decision on May 23, 2013, denying the claim. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. The Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.


         A. Background and medical evidence The Plaintiff was born on March 11, 1965. She has a high school education and past work as a banquet waitress and optician. She listed the following physical and mental conditions as affecting her ability to work: a back injury with fusion, bone spurs in the neck, arthritis, knee problems, heart arrhythmia, sleep apnea, depression and memory loss.

         The Plaintiff's medical problems include moderate neuroforaminal stenosis in her cervical spine. Her treating orthopedic surgeon, Per Freitag, M.D., on March 8, 2012 stated that Plaintiff had a degenerative disk disease in her lower back, demonstrated on a myelogram. Although a previous SMG test was negative, he stated that this needed to be repeated. On examination, she had “good strength of her upper extremities.”

         Despite surgical intervention on her right knee, the Plaintiff had continued limping and swelling after the surgery. On January 9, 2012, Leo Ludwig, M.D., indicated that she had continued limping and swelling after the scope. Studies showed grade 2 to grade 3 arthritis in the right knee. Because she was not yet at grade 4, Dr. Ludwig did not recommend a total knee replacement. Dr. Ludwig observed that “she limps to get around, ” had trouble getting into her daughter's apartment because of the stairs and she had fallen trying to get up the stairs. He noted the presence of pain in her knee as well.

         Dr. Freitag treated the Plaintiff's lower back problems. He noted a history of prior back fusion at ¶ 5/S1, with worsening problems. She developed instability of her lumbar spine with neurogenic claudication. He recommended another fusion up to the level of L3. At the time of surgery, Dr. Freitag noted “the instability was quite evident. In the standing position, the disk was significantly collapsed.” Dr. Freitag had noticed medical signs of diminished sensation and weakened strength in her lower extremities. After the surgery, the Plaintiff continued to have difficulties. Dr. Freitag diagnosed clinical medical signs of a left L4 radiculopathy, commenting that she was fused from L3 to S1. She had a positive diskogram after the surgery, which showed degenerative disk disease with a concordant pain response at ¶ 4. The CT scan was positive for an annular tear at ¶ 4 and “at least mild canal and mild to moderate foraminal stenosis.”

         Dr. Freitag sent the Plaintiff to Edward Trudeau, M.D., for a new EMG test. Dr. Trudeau spent a considerable amount of time evaluating the Plaintiff and reviewed a number of detailed records sent by Dr. Freitag. Dr. Trudeau noted her history of two back surgeries and proceeded to conduct an examination, during which he said the Plaintiff appeared to be in “a great deal of discomfort.” His examination disclosed positive medical signs of hypesthesia in the left thigh, weakness of the left hip flexors, the left quadriceps, the left ankle and left toes, and she had hypoactive left knee reflexes. Dr. Trudeau then conducted detailed electromyographic studies which objectively demonstrated “moderately severe” left L4 radiculopathy and “moderate severe” left lateral femoral cutaneous neuropathy.

         B. Hearing testimony

         The Plaintiff testified that her medications caused memory loss. She said her left leg was numb and she had a hard time walking. The leg would give out and she would fall without warning. She needed to lay down frequently and prop it up.

         The Plaintiff reported that she did very little housework. She could put a frozen dinner in the microwave; her daughter did the vacuuming; she could load the dishwasher but had to rest afterwards; she could not pull the wet laundry out of the washer and get it into the dryer, so her husband and mother helped with the laundry. When grocery shopping, she used the “riding carts.” She had used a handicapped placard for her car and parking. Most of her day was spent lying down and watching TV. She used a computer but sitting at the computer increased pain so she was not using it frequently. She used her phone while lying down or sitting on the couch for online access. She reported difficulty with dressing, particularly with pants. She had given up gardening, yard work and mowing. A 5-year old ...

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