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Timm v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 3, 2017

DENEEN TIMM, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          JONATHAN E. HAWLEY U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Now before the Court is the Plaintiff Deneen Timm's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 10), the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (Doc. 13), and the Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. 15).[1] For the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS the Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance.[2]

         I

         On August 15, 2013, Timm filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) alleging disability beginning on April 5, 2010 (subsequently amended to March 13, 2013). Her claim was denied initially on December 10, 2013 and was denied upon reconsideration on July 7, 2014. On August 29, 2014, Timm filed a request for hearing concerning her application for DIB. A hearing was held before the Honorable John M. Wood (ALJ) on November 12, 2015. At the hearing, Timm was represented by counsel, and Timm, a Vocational Expert (VE), and Timm's husband testified. Following the hearing, Timm's claim was denied on January 27, 2016. Her request for review by the Appeals Council was denied on November 10, 2016, making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Timm filed the instant civil action seeking review of the ALJ's Decision on January 10, 2017.

         II

         At the time she applied for benefits, Timm was 55 years old living in Taylor Ridge, Illinois with her husband Douglas Timm (Douglas). On her Form SSA-3368, Timm listed all of the physical and mental conditions that limited her ability to work as follows: stage 3 chronic kidney disease; osteoarthritis; fibromyalgia; cardiac syndrome X; tremors from fibromyalgia; depression; and osteoarthritis. AR 217.

         At the hearing, Timm testified that she lived in a one level house with her husband. She testified that she had to shower because it was extremely hard for her to get into and out of the bathtub, and she had difficulty with buttons so she typically did not wear things with buttons. Her daily routine included folding laundry (after her husband brought it from the basement), sometimes cooking using either the Crockpot or an electric skillet, and occasionally loading and unloading the dishwasher. Timm stated that her husband did the overall cleaning in the house, and she had not been involved in cleaning the house for a couple of years. Timm explained that her lower back and hip pain were getting so bad that she stopped doing any of the cleaning. She went grocery shopping with her husband. She liked to read while at home. She did not go visit family or friends as they usually came to see her. She drove a car a couple times a month.

         She previously worked as a caregiver. At the time Timm resigned from that position, she did so because she did not think she could do it anymore given the combination of her own problems and those of the man for whom she was caring. Timm also testified that she did not feel she could work at present because she experienced a lot of pain throughout her body, especially in her lower right back and right hip. She said the pain in those areas had been present for quite a while and was getting worse. Timm stated that she saw Dr. Michael Dolphin, D.O. for her low back and hip pain and one of his assistants discussed surgery to fix that pain. Timm further stated, “But at the same time, I had just had the first hernia surgery and was recovering from that. So --.” AR 62.

         She said her hands had a lot of pain as well with grasping and writing, and the pain had lately settled into her right shoulder making it hard for her to raise her right arm. Timm explained that her left hand surgery (joint removal surgery) did not turn out the way it was described, and, therefore, she was afraid to have her right hand done as she was right-handed.

         Upon questioning by her attorney, Timm testified that she went to a pain center for injections in her lower back and hip on the right side of her body. She stated that she went every three months for those injections. Timm then testified that about a year before the hearing she started falling more and losing her balance more so she discussed with one of her doctors, Dr. Michael F. Miniter, M.D., about the use of a cane. Timm testified that Dr. Miniter explained there was no sense in prescribing a cane if Timm already had one (she told him she had one). Timm also testified that she and her husband moved from a two-story to one-story house to get away from the stairs in the former house. She could walk short distances and then would have to sit down or stop.

         She also stated that she had daily pain in her right side due to kidney problems, which also caused burning when she urinated. Timm explained that because of the type of disease she had, there was nothing that could really be done for it. Timm said there were days when her fibromyalgia caused her skin to burn so badly that she could not stand to have anything touch her. She testified to being tired and not sleeping well at night. She said it was hard to lay or stay in one position for a long period of time, and, thus, she could go to sleep for an hour or so but then she would get up and sit in a chair for a while. She spent most of her time during the day either sitting in her recliner with her feet up or laying down to stretch out her back and hip. She took naps daily. Timm said her medicines did not cause any side effects or any problems for her. They took away some of the pain but not all of it, so that she could function “a little bit” through the day. AR 72.

         Timm then testified about the jobs she had in the past including being a caregiver, an office clerk, a customer service clerk, and a mail handler. She said she could not perform her previous work as customer service clerk because she could no longer do the typing and writing all day. She said she could also not grasp products like she once did. Timm stated she could no longer do the job of engraver, pantograph as the job involved a lot of very fine hand work.

         Timm's husband Douglas then testified. Douglas testified that Timm stopped working a number of years ago due to her illnesses and that she had gone downhill ever since. Her mobility was greatly limited, and they did not do much like they once did. He helped her with everyday things such as getting dressed, doing dishes, doing laundry, and getting groceries. He explained that Timm's fingers locked up so that she could not grasp anything. He said she complained of pain every day. She had problems with falling. Douglas also testified that if they were to go out and do anything during the day, then Timm would need up to three days to recover. Douglas was unable to hold Timm because her skin hurt her. Douglas said that Timm's condition became much worse over the last few years and particularly so within the last year. Douglas confirmed Timm's initial use of her grandmother's cane a year before and her current use of a better cane.

         Finally, a VE testified.

         III

         In his Decision, the ALJ determined that Timm had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; generalized arthritis; post left hand surgery; kidney disease; degenerative back disorder; and abdominal disorder. AR 23. The ALJ made the following residual functional capacity (RFC) finding:

The claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except: the claimant may not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the claimant can perform other postural functions occasionally; she cannot engage in overhead reaching; she can perform other manipulative functions frequently; and she must avoid workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery.

AR 25.

         In support of that RFC finding, the ALJ recounted Timm's and Douglas's hearing testimony. The ALJ also detailed Timm's medical records dated between October 2010 and October 2015. Those medical records provided that Timm underwent left trapezium excision surgery in April 2012 for her left first metacarpal joint osteoarthritis, she underwent numerous injections over the course of those five years, and she underwent medical imaging (MRI, CT scan, X-ray) during the relevant period. The records also provided that Timm's examinations revealed normal motor strength, normal sensation, normal gait, and full range of motion of the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, and knees. Those same records indicated Timm had limited neck, ankle, and feet motion. Timm's medications (Voltaren gel, Lyrica, Trazodone, Tramadol, Cymbalta, Kenalog injections, Avapro, Butrans patch, hydrocodone), their side effects (if any), and their efficacy was noted throughout the ALJ's Decision. The instances in which physical therapy and exercise were suggested and a TENS unit was tried were also noted by the ALJ.

         The ALJ exhaustively recited the medical records pertaining to Timm's hernia and hernia repair surgery as well as the procedure to remove mesh (which later caused Timm pain) that was used during the original hernia surgery. Dr. Melinda M. Hass, M.D.'s (Timm's doctor for her hernia repair) medical notes appear throughout the ALJ's Decision. The very last page of the transcript in this case includes a handwritten note from Dr. Hass in which she responded to Timm's counsel's request for clarification about any prescribed weight limit for Timm saying, “No permanent absolute weight limit restriction given but I did counsel her to lift only what she felt comfortable lifting and to limit if she experienced pain.” AR 745.

         The ALJ also discussed the medical records pertaining to Timm's treatment for her kidney disease. He referenced her complained-of symptoms, the tests she underwent, and the treatment she was prescribed for it. He noted the instances where her renal functions were stable.

         With regard to her fibromyalgia, the ALJ referred to Timm's records which indicated she had 15/18 positive trigger points and which explained that her anthralgias and synovitis were suggestive of fibromyalgia. The ALJ detailed the instances Timm complained of all-over pain, tenderness to certain body parts, and generalized aching and morning stiffness. The ALJ also cited where in the medical records Timm reported she babysat for her grandchildren daily, was ...


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