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Donald L. v. Saul

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

July 24, 2019

DONALD L., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Young B. Kim United States Magistrate Judge.

         Donald L. (“Donald”) seeks disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) alleging that he is disabled by a bulging disc in his back, seizures, and one-sided nose breathing. After the Commissioner of Social Security denied his applications, Donald filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before the court is Donald's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is denied, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed:

         Procedural History

         Donald filed his applications for DIB and SSI in February 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2014. (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 190-96, 197-202.) After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 66-115, 123-35), Donald sought and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), (id. at 154). In April 2016 Donald appeared for the hearing along with his attorney and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Id. at 31-65.) The ALJ issued a decision in May 2016 finding that Donald is not disabled. (Id. at 12-30.) When the Appeals Council declined Donald's request for review, (id. at 1-6), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015). Donald filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties consented to this court's jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 8).

         Background

         Donald asserts that he initially injured his back while lifting a container at work in October 2013, (A.R. 329), and stopped working after developing severe low back pain following a second work-related accident two months later, (id. at 34, 329). At the time of his April 2016 hearing before the ALJ, Donald's worker's compensation claim relating to the second accident was pending. (Id.) During the hearing, Donald presented medical and testimonial evidence in support of his disability claims.

         A. Medical Evidence

         In January 2014 Dr. Fred Turk, a chiropractor, performed an MRI of Donald's lumbar spine, which revealed degenerative disc disease. (A.R. 313.) Dr. Turk's examination of Donald's lower back revealed an antalgic stance, spinal tenderness, limited range of motion, positive straight leg raising, and tingling and weakness in his lower left extremity. (Id. at 329.) In March 2014 Dr. Turk stated that Donald was “asymptomatic” but noted that “[f]uture relapse cannot be ruled out in this case.” (Id. at 330.)

         Donald was also evaluated by another chiropractor in March 2014, (id. at 336), and began physical therapy the following month, (id. at 458). Donald told his physical therapist that he had been wearing a back brace since October 2013 and that he was experiencing low back pain which was preventing him from having a normal lifestyle. (Id.) He further explained that bending over, emptying garbage cans, doing laundry, carrying less than 10 to 15 pounds, standing less than 15 minutes, and sitting for 30 minutes to one hour caused back pain. (Id.) During his initial physical therapy evaluation, Donald demonstrated decreased muscle strength in his lower extremities and pain with transitional movements. (Id.)

         In May 2014 Donald presented to Dr. Liana Palacci for a physical consultative examination. (Id. at 362.) Donald was diagnosed with a seizure disorder when he was 19 years old and has been on medication ever since. (Id. at 363.) His seizures are characterized by tonic-clonic activity, urinary incontinence, and post-ictal confusion. (Id.) Donald informed Dr. Palacci that he has been experiencing low back pain since 2013 and that both walking and climbing stairs exacerbate the pain, but that pain medication resolves his discomfort. (Id.) During his physical exam, Donald demonstrated normal range of motion in his extremities, negative straight leg raising, and normal gait. (Id. at 364.)

         Also, in May 2014 state agency medical consultant Dr. James Madison opined that Donald can: occasionally lift or carry 20 pounds; frequently lift 10 pounds; occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and stand, walk, and sit about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. (Id. at 80-81.) He further opined that Donald can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. (Id.) Dr. Madison concluded that Donald was not disabled and that he could perform light work. (Id. at 82.)

         In October 2014 Dr. Turk completed a “Lumbar Spine Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire” in which he stated that Donald demonstrated an abnormal gait, tenderness, muscle spasms and weakness, and reduced range of motion in his spine. (Id. at 588-89.) Dr. Turk opined that Donald can walk one city block without rest or severe pain, can sit for 30 minutes at a time, can stand for 5 minutes at a time, can walk less than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, can lift less than 10 pounds, and can never perform postural movements. (Id. at 589-91.) Dr. Turk further opined that Donald would constantly experience pain or other symptoms severe enough to interfere with the attention and concentration needed to perform even simple work tasks. (Id. at 589.) Dr. Turk also opined that Donald needs to take unscheduled breaks and use an assistive device, and that he would miss more than four days of work per month. (Id. at 590-91.)

         In December 2014 Dr. Charles Kenney assessed the same exertional limitations as Dr. Madison. (Id. at 80.) Dr. Kenney further opined that Donald can balance, occasionally climb stairs, frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. (Id. at 94-95.) He also concluded that Donald was not disabled and could perform light work. (Id. at 98.)

         B. Hearing Testimony

         Donald testified that he currently lives with his mother in a building owned by his sister. (A.R. 38.) Although he keeps his room clean, Donald stated that he does not complete many household chores. (Id.) He can dress himself, shower, clean, and shop without help. (Id. at 56-59.) Donald explained that both walking and climbing stairs are difficult without his back brace. (Id. at 39.) He testified that he does not drive but has a free ride pass through the state's Benefit Access program, a taxi pass, and access to paratransit service. (Id. at ...


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