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Rudy-Palos v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

August 4, 2017




         Now before the Court are the Plaintiff, Robin Rudy-Palos', Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 15)[1] and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (D. 19). The parties provided supporting Memoranda thereto. (D. 16; 20). For the reasons set forth, infra, this Court REVERSES the Commissioner's Decision, GRANTS the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 15), DENIES the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (D. 19), and REMANDS for further proceedings consistent with this Order and Opinion.[2]


         In October 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) alleging disability beginning on October 2, 2013. Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. The Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and appeared before ALJ Diane Flebbe in October 2015, represented by counsel. ALJ Flebbe later found that the Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined by agency regulations, with some exceptions. She ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (D. 9 at pp. 29-35). The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review in January 2016, making ALJ Flebbe's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. The Plaintiff filed the instant civil action, seeking review of ALJ Fleebe's Decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (D. 1).


         At the time the Plaintiff applied for DIB, she was 54 years old. She was living in a home, in Rock Island, Illinois with her husband. The Plaintiff completed her GED while working fulltime. She was employed as a payroll clerk for 32 years. For the last six of those years, she was a supervisor as well. More recently, the Plaintiff also spent brief stints working as a server and as a dietary aide. She held both of these latter positions for approximately a year and a half each. The Plaintiff has not worked, however, since October 2, 2013. On the various SSA forms she submitted, the Plaintiff indicated that she has disabling depression, arthritis, bad ankles-including swelling and discoloration, Crohn's disease, scoliosis, arthritis in her back and hip, problems with peripheral vision, anxiety, possible fibromyalgia, and pain in her hands and groin. (D. 9 at pg. 94).

         At the hearing before ALJ Flebbe, the Plaintiff testified that aside from being diabetic, the fact that she was overweight did not impact her listed impairments. (D. 9 at pg. 48). She also testified about several of her other impairments, including: Crohn's disease (Id. at pp. 50-59), hand pain/stiffness (Id. at pp. 59-60; 64-65; 78), struggles with vision (Id. at pp. 60-62), diabetes (Id. at pg. 62-63), depression and anxiety (Id. at pg. 63), her capacity to sit, walk, and stand (Id. at pp. 63-64; 66-67), deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and edema (Id. at pp. 65-66), lack of strength (Id. at pp. 67-70), and migraines (Id. at pp. 70-72). She confirmed that there were no other ailments, that she could think of, limiting her ability to work. Id. at pg. 72.

         Relevant to the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, her counsel discussed numerous references to “bilateral hand pain, stiffness, and swelling[]” in her medical records. Id. at pg. 59. The Plaintiff testified that the problems she had with her hands persisted to the present day. She said her hands continue to “lock up” on her occasionally throughout the day and that they are irritated further by tasks such as using a pencil, using a knife while cooking, and typing. Id. at pp. 59-60; 64-65. Whether the Plaintiff does any of these activities or not, her hands cramp. She said the cramping happens approximately three to four times per day. Id. at pg. 65. It is particularly complicated for her when her hands are cramping after she goes to the bathroom in a public restroom. Id. at pg. 78.

         The Plaintiff said she does all of the chores around her house, but it takes her longer than it used to. As a result of her hand cramping, she can no longer engage in two of her hobbies: cross stitch and motorcycle riding. She estimates that she last cross stitched three years before the hearing and last rode a motorcycle in the summer of 2014-approximately a year and a half before the hearing. The Plaintiff uses a computer regularly to access email, log in to her social media accounts, and play games. She also has a cell phone and uses it to text and access the internet.

         Vocational Expert, George Paprocki, also testified at the Plaintiff's hearing. Based on the Plaintiff's testimony, Paprocki affirmed that the Plaintiff had past relevant work history as a payroll clerk-including time spent as the chief payroll clerk, a server, and a dietary aide. Id. at pg. 83. Upon questioning from the ALJ, Paprocki stated his view on several hypotheticals involving someone situated identically to the Plaintiff. Assuming the person had the ability to perform sedentary and light exertion work with frequent climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, but was not allowed to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding, Paprocki said they could engage in the Plaintiff's past relevant work, minus her work as a dietary aide. If the limitations were reduced exclusively to sedentary work, he said the outcome would remain the same.

         Paprocki also testified that if a person such as the Plaintiff were to average taking an unscheduled break approximately 10 to 15 minutes in length one time per week, it would have no impact on their ability to do the Plaintiff's past relevant work. If the unscheduled breaks increased to once a day for three or four days per week, it would still not have an impact. Paprocki estimated that once the break time went over 30 minutes of unscheduled time off, however, it would have a negative impact on employment. He also stated that if the hypothetical person were limited to detailed work that is uninvolved, with only a few concrete variables, they would be able to do the Plaintiff's past work as a dietary aide, but not her other positions. In his opinion, her other two jobs did not have transferable skills.

         Popracki opined that if an employee were able to make it to work every day but were off task more than approximately ten percent of the time, they would likely lose their employment on the basis of inadequate productivity. Likewise, if someone was missing work for two or more days in a given month, the result would be the same. Upon questioning from the Plaintiff's counsel, Paprocki explained that someone that missed more than one day per month during their probationary period would also likely be let go by their employer, before the position could become permanent. Paprocki stated that his testimony was consistent with the information found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and that the portions of his testimony not specifically addressed by the DOT were based on his professional experience.


         In her Decision, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative changes of the thoracic spine, right hip small enthesopathy formation, public symphysis sclerosis, tronchateric bursitis, symmetric arthralgias, Crohn's disease, and obesity. (20 CFR 404.1520(c)). (D. 9 at pg. 25). She specified that these impairments were “severe because they are medically determinable and have more than minimally affected the claimant's ability to perform basic work activites.” Id. at pg. 26. In her discussion of the remaining ...

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