United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. DOW, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiff Kathy H.'s motion for
summary judgment , seeking review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's decision that Plaintiff is not entitled
to a period of disability or disability insurance benefits.
Plaintiff asks that the Court reverse the ALJ's decision
and to find her disabled from April 16, 2010 or, in the
alternative, remand the case for additional proceedings. Also
before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for summary
judgment . The Commissioner asks that the Court enter a
judgment affirming the ALJ's decision. For the reasons
stated below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment  and grants the Commissioner's
motion for summary judgment . The Court affirms the
Commissioner's decision. Civil case terminated.
appeal marks Plaintiff's second request for judicial
review regarding her application for disability benefits
beginning as of April 16, 2010. On April 25, 2011, Plaintiff
applied for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits, alleging that her disability began on June 23,
2006. [Administrative Record (“A.R.”) at 982.]
Her application was denied on July 13, 2011. [Id.]
She subsequently sought a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on July 19,
2012, and where Plaintiff, a medical expert, and a vocational
expert testified. [Id. at 67-126.] On November 19,
2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and could
perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy.
[Id. at 14-45.] Plaintiff then requested review of
this decision, which the Appeals Council denied.
[Id. at 1-6, 12-13.]
appealed the Commissioner's decision (which became final
after the Appeals Council denied review) to this Court on
March 26, 2014. See generally . Upon reviewing the record,
Judge Zagel remanded the case to the Social Security
Administration pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) in light of new evidence presented on appeal regarding
one of Plaintiff's treating doctors, Dr. Bina Oommen.
[Id.] The Appeals Council subsequently remanded
Plaintiff's claim to the ALJ. [A.R. at 1168-71.]
conducted another hearing on August 18, 2017, at which
Plaintiff, a psychological medical expert, a physician
medical expert, and a vocational expert testified.
[Id. at 1012-69.] On September 13, 2017, the ALJ
issued a partially favorable decision to Plaintiff, finding
her disabled as of May 19, 2015, but not prior to that date.
[Id. at 999.] The Commissioner and Plaintiff
subsequently motioned to reopen this action. See generally
; . This Court granted both motions and reopened the
case. See generally . Plaintiff subsequently filed a
motion for summary judgment , arguing that the ALJ had
made a number of errors that resulted in her failure to find
Plaintiff disabled prior to May 19, 2015.
noted, and the parties agree, that although Plaintiff claims
disability as of June 23, 2006, the relevant period at issue
begins on April 16, 2010. [Id. at 982]; [46, at 2];
[51, at 2].Thus, Plaintiff specifically appeals the
ALJ's finding that she was not disabled from April 16,
2010 to May 19, 2015.
Relevant Medical Evidence
alleges that she qualifies as disabled due to the following
constellation of conditions: lower back problems,
fibromyalgia, lumbar radiculopathy, neuropathy in the right
leg, urinary incontinence, a bulging disc in her lower back,
loss of balance, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, a mood
disorder, nerve problems, and ankle problems. [A.R. at 1449.]
She stopped working in 2006 due to these conditions.
[Id.] Prior to that, Plaintiff worked as medical
assistant. [Id. at 1057.] In addition to the
ailments listed above, Plaintiff claims to suffer migraine
headaches every other day, [id. at 1457], and
maintains that she cannot use a checking or savings account
because of her inability to concentrate. [Id. at
1461]. Her conditions also affect her ability to stand, sit,
walk, hear, concentrate, use her hands, and follow
instructions, among other things. [Id. at 1462.]
Plaintiff takes medication for some of these
conditions-Atenolol for high blood pressure, Tramadol for
pain; Xanax for anxiety, and Sumatriptan for migraines.
[Id. at 1490.]
The August 18, 2017 Hearing before the ALJ
August 18, 2017, the ALJ held a hearing regarding
Plaintiff's eligibility for disability benefits from
April 16, 2010 to present. [Id. at 1014.] Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, testified at this hearing in addition
to Dr. Larry Kravitz, a psychological medical expert, Dr.
Chukwuemeka Ezike, a physician medical expert, and Leanne
Kerr, a vocational expert. [Id. at 1012-69.]
testified that she stopped working in 2007 because of an
accident in 2006. [Id. at 1018.] Her right leg fell
into a sinkhole which damaged her lower back, pelvis, and
leg. [Id. at 1018-19.] She explained that the
injuries to her lower back and legs as well as her migraines-
which she stated occur three times a day and cause her to
vomit 10 to 15 times a week-have prevented her from returning
to work. [Id. at 1029.] She has had migraines since
she was in her twenties and takes medication for them, which
sometimes helps but is completely ineffective at other times.
[Id. at 1040.] She also stated that her ailments
cause her so much pain that she cannot bear to be touched,
including by her husband. [Id. at 1035.] Although
she received a Lyrica prescription to assuage her
fibromyalgia, Plaintiff reported that she stopped taking the
medicine because it made her very dizzy and did not replace
the Lyrica with anything else. [Id. at 1035- 36.]
weight has increased from 125 pounds at the time of her
accident in 2006 to 252 pounds as of the date of her
testimony. [Id. at 1029.] Additionally, she has
smoked consistently for the last ten years, but does not use
an y other drug, including alcohol. [Id. at
1022-23.] Plaintiff has never gone to see a psychiatrist or
psychologist. [Id.] With regard to physical therapy,
Plaintiff testified that she had lost count of how many times
she has been to physical therapy and that her insurance does
not cover it anymore. [Id. at 1025-26.] Plaintiff
spends most of her days in bed, watching tv and trying to get
sleep. [Id. at 1026.] She wakes up between five to
seven times a night. [Id. at 1031.]
began using a walker in April 2017 and used a cane for
approximately three to four years before to that.
[Id. at 1025.] She has had many issues with her
legs, including neuropathy,  meralgia paresthetica,
groin and hip pain, SI joint dysfunction, a twisted pelvis,
and ankle surgery from falling down the stairs. [Id.
at 1037-40.] Finally, Plaintiff also has had trouble with her
hands, stating that she can move them for about five to ten
minutes before they start getting numb and swollen.
[Id. at 1067.]
Psychological Medical Expert's Testimony
obtained testimony from an impartial clinical psychologist
Larry Kravitz, Ph.D. [Id. at 1040.] Dr. Kravitz
asked Plaintiff if she took any medications for depression or
anxiety. [Id. at 1042.] Plaintiff responded that she
has been taking Xanax three times a day for the last thirty
years. [Id.] After reviewing the medical evidence
and hearing Plaintiff's testimony, Dr. Kravitz explained
that the evidence regarding Plaintiff's psychiatric
condition was very limited and somewhat vague. [Id.
at 1043.] For example, he noted that Plaintiff had been
diagnosed with a dysthymic disorder, but that her mental
status as of September 2015 was fairly intact, except that
she had some difficulty with short-term memory.
[Id.] Additionally, despite the absence of any
current psychological documentation, Dr. Kravitz concluded
that the dysthymic disorder continues to be a critical
diagnosis as Plaintiff seems to have a sense of hopelessness,
a depressed mood, and some level of anhedonia. [Id.]
Given the limited amount of treatment Plaintiff had received
for her mental issues, Dr. Kravitz recommended that the ALJ
should either have Plaintiff reevaluated and procure an
updated mental health status or give Plaintiff at least a
moderate limitation in concentration, pace, and persistence.
[Id.] He added that he “would find it unlikely
that she'd be able to persist on more than a simple,
routine tasks in the work environment on a consistent
basis.” [Id.] Dr. Kravitz further testified
that he believed that Plaintiff had mild restrictions to
remembering and understanding information, mostly because he
did not have enough documentation to support a finding beyond
that. [Id. at 1044.] Finally, Dr. Kravitz stated
that fibromyalgia, from a mental point of view, could affect
someone's concentration and memory, because the
pain-referred to as a “fibro fog”-distracts the
person and makes concentration difficult. [Id. at
Testimony of Physician Medical Expert
also obtained testimony from an impartial physician,
Chukwuemeka Ezike, PhD. [Id. at 1046.] Dr. Ezike
explained that Plaintiff's medically determinable
impairments included: lumber degenerative disc disease,
cervical disc herniation, right lateral femoral neuropathy,
left ulnar nerve entrapment, left ankle fracture, obesity,
fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches. [Id. at
1047-48.] He then concluded that these impairments did not
fall into any Social Security Administration listing.
[Id. at 1048.] Dr. Ezike also specified that
Plaintiff has had chronic pain since at least 2010.
[Id. at 1054.] Finally, Dr. Ezike provided
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. In Dr.
Ezike's estimation, Plaintiff could sit for six hours per
day and stand for two hours. [Id. at 1048.]
Testimony of Vocational Expert
the ALJ obtained testimony from an impartial vocational
expert, Leanne Kerr. [Id. at 1057.] After noting
that Plaintiff previously worked as medical technician, Kerr
opined that Plaintiff could no longer work in that position.
[Id. at 1059.] Nonetheless, Kerr proceeded to
explain that Plaintiff could work certain positions based on
her age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity. [Id. at 1058.] These positions included
“telephone clerk, ” “account clerk, ”
and “order clerk, ” all which are sedentary and
unskilled and have a Specific Vocational Preparation
(“SVP”) level of two. [Id. at 1059.] The
ALJ then asked what kind of jobs Plaintiff could work given
Plaintiff's representations that she could only have
limited social interactions with the public and coworkers.
[Id.] Kerr responded that although Plaintiff could
still work as an account clerk with those limitations, the
order and telephone clerk positions would have more public
interaction than Plaintiff's restrictions. [Id.]
She therefore ...