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Charles F. v. Saul

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

August 12, 2019

CHARLES F., [*] Claimant-Appellant,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [†] Respondent-Appellee.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA M. KENDALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Claimant-Appellant Charles F. seeks judicial review of an Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of his application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. (Dkt. 10 at 36.) Charles F. argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) applying the incorrect legal standard to evaluate an expert medical opinion, and (2) discrediting Charles F.'s statements without good reasons. The Commissioner disagrees with both claims and moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. 21.) Because the ALJ properly assessed the expert medical opinion and had good reasons to discredit Charles F.'s statements, the Court grants the Commissioner's motion (Dkt. 21) and affirms his decision.

         Background

         Charles F. applied for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration on April 24, 2014. (Dkt. 13 at 1.) Physically, his diagnosis includes diabetes mellitus (DM), coronary artery disease (CAD), degenerative disc disease (DDD), and obesity. (Dkt. at 10, 26.) Mentally, Charles F. suffers from major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). (Id.) His impairments and their corresponding treatment cause him pain, lethargy, trouble walking, and difficulty with his thought process. (Id. at 53-54.)

         I. Facts

         Charles F. is a 48-year-old man. (Id. at 82.) He stands 6' tall and reported his weight at 264 pounds in his disability benefits filings, though his recorded weight has fluctuated between 222 and 245 pounds since then. (Id. at 30, 82.) Once divorced, he now lives with his fiancée, their 11-year-old daughter, and his fiancée's 21 and 17-year-old sons. (Id. at 51.) Charles F. last worked around 2008 as a “picker” for Thornton Industries where he operated a forklift moving boxes and pallets. (Id. at 57.) He left the job after about a month because he could neither “deal with the pain every day in [his] legs” nor “understand the paperwork for shipping.” (Id.)

         Growing up, Charles F. had a difficult life at home and at school. Both of his parents suffered from depression and alcohol abuse.[‡] (Id. at 469.) He described his home as “violent and chaotic.” (Id.) Charles F.'s father died in 1992, his brother in 2008, and his mother in 2010, all from myocardial infarction (heart attacks). (Id.) Charles F. attended school through the eighth grade and was in special education classes for all subjects starting in the third grade. (Id. at 55, 469.) Due to academic trouble, he repeated both kindergarten and the eighth grade. (Id. at 469.) Charles F. exhibited behavioral problems in class with peers and teachers. (Id.)

         These days, Charles F. has limited ability to care for himself at home. He can prepare simple microwaved meals and clean his dishes, but he cannot stand for extended periods of time. (Id. at 54.) He can groom and dress himself, but needs help putting on his socks. (Id. at 64-65.) Charles F. can use the bathroom on his own but requires the help of his fiancée to shower. (Id. at 64.) His fiancée and children aid with other household chores. (Id. at 26.) Charles F.'s condition also limits his recreation. He can toss a football with his children, but then needs to rest. (Id.) Charles F. estimates that he can walk for one block before he must take a 15-minute rest. (Id. at 29.)

         A. Physical Impairments

         Charles F. has suffered from diabetes mellitus (DM) since at least 2011, when he first visited Dr. Vermillion, his treating physician. (Id. at 30.) Charles F. checks his blood sugar at most twice a day and testified that it fluctuates between 140 and 200. (Id.) The diabetes, combined with leg neuropathy, causes tingling in his extremities, which makes it difficult to walk and grasp objects. (Id.) As a result, Charles F. frequently drops things. (Id.)

         Additionally, Charles F. has coronary heart disease (CAD) and has survived two heart attacks, the most recent in 2015. (Id. at 30, 50.) Consequently, Charles F. has a stent in his right coronary artery. (Id. at 30.) Surgery after the heart attack revealed a left ventricular ejection fraction and severe inferior and moderate lateral wall hypokinesis. (Id.) Accordingly, lifting certain objects causes Charles F. chest pain. (Id.)

         Charles F. also has physical impairments in his back. He suffers from degenerative disc disease (DDD) related to a herniated disc in his spine. (Id.) Specifically, he has multilevel lumbar spondylosis, central disc extrusion, and “moderate to severe” central spinal impingement of the L5 nerve roots. (Id.) Charles F. takes pain medication for his back and diabetes-related impairments. (Id.) Several years before Charles F.'s first visit with Dr. Vermillion in 2011, Charles F. was prescribed Vicodin for knee pain. (Id. at 751.) Charles F. became addicted. (Id.) He started taking Suboxone in 2007, developed a physical and psychological dependence, and continued to be prescribed the narcotic by Dr. Vermillion through 2015. (Id. at 614.) At his hearing, Charles F. denied that he still takes Suboxone and stated that he takes Methadone instead. (Id. at 68.) Charles F.'s obesity aggravates his DM, CAD, and DDD. (Id. at 30.) Between 2014 and 2016, his body mass index (BMI) fluctuated between 30 and 33. (Id.)

         B. Mental Impairments

         At Charles F.'s hearing, the impartial medical expert described Charles F.'s mental impairments as his “primary diagnosis.” (Id. at 70.) Most of the information related to Charles F.'s mental impairments comes from a consultative, mental status examination administered by Dr. Langgut on August 29, 2014. (Id. at 469.) In the examination, Charles F. described symptoms of “moderately severe depression.” (Id. at 470.) Namely, Charles F. reported feelings of “hopelessness, lethargy, sleep problems, decreased concentration, daily mood disturbance, decreased appetite, . . . worth-lessness, and frequent tearfulness.” (Id.) He disclosed current suicidal thoughts and admitted to a suicide attempt in 2011 that his children stopped. (Id. at 470-71.) Charles F. also described feelings of panic-mitigated by medication-and mild social phobia. (Id. at 471.) Dr. Langgut conversely noted that Charles F. was “able to laugh” and exhibited an activity level “within normal limits, with no abnormalities of behavior.” (Id.) Dr. Langgut diagnosed Charles F. with major depressive disorder (MDD), alcohol abuse (in remission), and social anxiety. (Id. at 472.)

         At the mental status examination, Dr. Langgut also assessed Charles F.'s cognitive profile. Charles F. exhibited “intact” immediate, short-term, and long-term memory skills. (Id. at 471.) Tests administered by Dr. Langgut also revealed Charles F.'s “intact” basic computational skills, though his speed was slow. Further, Charles F. showed “an adequate degree of abstract reasoning, ” “intact judgment [and insight], ” “average coherence, ” and “normal . . . [mental] flexibility.” (Id.) Dr. Langgut acknowledged that Charles F. demonstrates “moderately severe ruminative ideation, mild obsessive ideas, and a mild phobia of social settings.” (Id.)

         II. ...


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