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Obryk v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 20, 2017

RANDALL B. OBRYK, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Randall B. Obryk's complaint seeking review of the denial of disability benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) for the period between June 1, 2009, and November 22, 2014. (Dkt. No. 1.) The Commissioner concluded that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was correct that the Plaintiff was not disabled at any time, followed by the Appeals Council's decision that the Plaintiff was, in fact, disabled as of November 22, 2014. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) filed a motion for summary judgment asking the Court to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. (Dkt. No. 18.) The Court hereby reverses the SSA decision, remanding for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, and denies the motion for summary judgment. [1; 18.]


         I. Obryk's Health and Initial Disability Application

         A. Before Obryk's September 2012 Disability Application

         Randall B. Obryk (“Obryk”) just turned 59 years old. Before he experienced the health issues and subsequent disability at question in this case, he began working as a maintenance technician in 1982 for various colleges and apartment buildings after obtaining some high school education. (Dkt. No. 12-1 at 39-40.)[1] He continued to work as a maintenance technician through September 2007 with duties that included electrical repairs, plumbing, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (“HVAC”) tasks. (Id. at 40-41.) These jobs were physically demanding, requiring him to be on his feet most of the time, occasionally to lift about 50 pounds, and to use various tools that applied pressure and torque. (Id. at 40-42.)

         On April 14, 2005, things took a turn when Hinsdale Hospital admitted Obryk because he had trouble breathing. (Id. at 229.) He underwent surgery in 2006 to replace a part of his aorta with a mechanical valve. (Id. at 45-46.) After Obryk's surgery, he went back to work, but his health problems kept him from fully performing. (Id. at 57.) For instance, Obryk testified he experienced muscle pain, heart pain, weakness, and fatigue. (Id.) He also experienced problems with heavy lifting and not completing tasks in the allotted amount of time. (Id. at 58-59.)

         In addition to his cardiac problems, Obryk also suffers from depression. Obryk stated that he has always dealt with depression, but his depression worsened starting in 2002. (Id. at 266.) That year, Obryk's apartment caught on fire and he moved into his parent's house. (Id.) His mom fell ill shortly thereafter in 2003 and ultimately died of a blood infection. (Id.) His good friend died in 2006, his dog died in 2007, and his father died in 2009. (Id.) According to Obryk, each of these developments worsened his depression. (Id.) Obryk also attributed some of his depression to the two major operations he had.[2] (Id.) When Obryk experiences depression, he loses energy, feels fatigued, and experiences dizzy spells. (Id.) He also gets easily angered and has a hard time communicating with people. (Id.)

         Obryk alleges an onset date for his disability of June 1, 2009, which is the date he became unable to work due to cardiac and depression. (Id. at 5-6; 100.) Obryk stated that he needed to leave his job on that date because he got a new supervisor who did not understand his limitations, including not being able to work for long periods of time and only being able to walk for about 20 minutes before he has to sit and take a 10 minute break. (Id. at 44; 48.) Since he quit his job, Obryk has had no sources of income aside from his Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. (Dkt. No. 1 at 9.) He mainly uses his savings and a small inheritance that he received to support himself. (Dkt. No. 12-1 at 52.)

         Since his surgery, Obryk has been able to maintain his household, which includes washing dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, doing laundry, and preparing frozen dinners. (Id. at 53-54.) He grocery shops, but only when someone can give him a ride and help him carry his packages into the house. (Id.) He cares for his small dog, which includes feeding it, giving it water, and taking it for walks, even though he cannot walk more than a couple of blocks and has trouble walking uphill and downhill. (Id. at 54.) Obryk also administered his father's estate, which the record describes as primarily selling his father's house. (Id. at 24.)

         From September 24, 2009, through January 3, 2013, Obryk was under the general care of Dr. Michael Brooks (“Brooks”), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (“D.O.”). (Id. at 229.) During this time, Brooks followed Obryk's conditions of hypercholesterolemia, [3] hypertension, and depression. (Id. at 238.) When Brooks first saw Obryk on September 24, 2009, Brooks noted that Obryk needed to get blood work done. (Id. at 229.) Even though he had no insurance at the time, Obryk stated that he understood the need to get the blood work done and that he was willing to comply. (Id. at 229; 237.)

         From November 16, 2009, through March 18, 2013, Dr. Duane Follman (“Follman”), Doctor of Medicine (“M.D.”) followed Obryk's cardiac problems. (Id. at 229.) On November 16, 2009, Follman conducted a cardiology consultation of Obryk and reported that Obryk's conditions of cardiomyopathy[4] and hypertension remained stable and that his hypercholesterolemia was well controlled on medical therapy. (Id.) Follman also noted that Obryk was aware of his surroundings and his mood was appropriate. (Id. at 246.)

         When Obryk visited Brooks, his general care doctor, again on December 9, 2010, Brooks noted that Obryk did not comply in the preventative health care measures, including refusing to do a colonoscopy and refusing to stop smoking cigars. (Id. at 240.) Brooks told Obryk that failure to follow those recommendations could result in an increased risk of illness or death. (Id. at 240.)

         Obryk then had another cardiology consultation with Follman on February 8, 2011, in which there were no cardiac complaints, no chest pain, nor any shortness of breath. (Id. at 229; 247.) Follman noted that Obryk could not afford a Doppler echocardiogram (“echo exam”)[5] at that time and that Obryk's hypertension was well controlled on medical therapy. (Id.) Obryk's valve sounds were excellent during this visit. (Id. at 248.)

         Obryk's next visit with Follman was on February 20, 2012. Follman noted that Obryk's cardiomyopathy improved and his hypertension and status post valve replacements remained stable. (Id. at 250.) Obryk's mood was appropriate and he was aware of his surroundings. (Id.)

         B. Obryk's 2013 Examinations

         Obryk filed a Title II application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on September 26, 2012. (Id. at 16.) In making its determination regarding Obryk's disability status, the Agency had doctors conduct exams of Obryk on its behalf. On January 21, 2013, Dr. Pranjal Shah, (“Shah”) M.D. conducted an internal medicine consultative exam of Obryk on behalf of Disability Determination Services (“DDS”). At this time, Obryk raised that he suffered: (1) depression for the past five to six years; (2) lethargy and dizziness; (3) heart palpitations; (5) shortness of breath; and (6) pain in the bottom of the left foot, which goes away on its own. (Id. at 230.) Shah spent thirty minutes doing a comprehensive history and physical exam for Obryk. (Id. at 259.) Shah noted that Obryk was alert and appeared to have normal memory. (Id. at 260.) However, Obryk did not appear to relate with Shah during the examination. (Id.)

         On February 22, 2013, Dr. Kelly Renzi (“Renzi”), Doctor of Psychology (“Psy. D.”) conducted a psychological examination of Obryk on behalf of DDS. Obryk told Renzi that he used to drink heavily but had abstained from doing so from 2003-2009. (Id. at 267.) At this time, Obryk was taking part in court-mandated alcohol treatment and had abstained for two months. (Id.) Renzi also noted that Obryk's cardiology records from the last four years do not show any ongoing cardiac problems. (Id. at 268.) Obryk's mood appeared mildly anxious, but he was “generally cooperative and appropriate with the evaluation.” (Id. at 269.) Renzi ultimately concluded that he met the criteria for mild depressive disorder and alcohol abuse. (Id. at 269.)

         Obryk's final cardiology consultation with Follman was on March 18, 2013. (Id. at 230.) Obryk had no cardiac complaints during this consultation. (Id. at 231.) He generally felt depressed, but functional, and he was taking metoprolol, [6] but only in the evenings. (Id.)

         On June 24, 2013, Obryk saw Brooks for a follow up visit, and Brooks noted that Obryk presented signs of “anxious/fearful thoughts, depressed mood, diminished interest or pleasure, fatigue, feelings of guilt and panic attacks but denies sleep disturbances or thoughts of death or suicide.” (Id. at 304.) Obryk's risk factors included financial worries, which prevented him from being able to seek psychiatric help. (Id.) Brooks also noted “[Obryk's] depression [was] aggravated by conflict or stress but not with alcohol use or lack of sleep.” (Id. at 304.) Obryk did not comply with Brook's recommended preventative health care measures, which included a colonoscopy and routine blood work. (Id. at 307.)

         C. Obryk's 2014 Examinations and Suicide Attempt

         Obryk lost his insurance[7] and had not been able to see a physician for many months before he got insurance and was able to visit Dr. Andrew Michael Dunn (“Dunn”), D.O. on April 8, 2014. (Id. at 302.) Dunn noted that Obryk presented problems with weakness and depression, which occur persistently. (Id. at 231.) Obryk's weakness only allows him to walk one to two blocks before resting. He also sleeps for about 12 hours each day. (Id.) Obryk's symptoms included “depressed mood, diminished interest or pleasure, fatigue, feelings of guilt, sluggishness and sleep disturbances.” (Id.) Dunn noted that Obryk's weakness probably stemmed from either his depression or cardiovascular issue. (Id.) Obryk's risk factors included “death of a friend or loved one, financial worries, medication [], social isolation and unemployment.” (Id. at 297.) His risk factors excluded “alcoholism, childhood abuse or neglect, substance abuse and relationship problems.” (Id.) Dunn recommended therapy and a psychiatric appointment for Obryk and reported normal neurological and psychiatric examination findings with the exception of anhedonia.[8] (Id. at 300.)

         On May 17, 2014, Obryk attempted suicide and was admitted to the psychiatric unit of a hospital after an overdose of medications combined with alcohol. (Id. at 232.) Obryk was observed closely and encouraged to participate in group activities. (Id. at 310.) Once he started to show improvement in his mood, “[Obryk] was no longer considered a danger to himself or others.” (Id.) Obryk was accordingly discharged on May 22, 2014. (Id.)

         As of August 24, 2014, Obryk was taking Warfarin, Norvasc, Metoprolol, and Zoloft, which were all prescribed for his depression. (Id.)

         II. ...

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