United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. Shah United States District Judge.
P. worked as a security guard at O'Hare airport until an
accident at work resulted in neck, back, and other injuries.
When surgeries, physical therapy, and other treatments failed
to alleviate her pain and other symptoms, Rachel applied for
disability benefits. The ALJ who reviewed her application
concluded that Rachel could perform limited light work and so
was not disabled. Rachel filed this action for review of that
the Appeals Council denied review, the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner.
Jozefyk v. Berryhill, 923 F.3d 492, 496 (7th Cir.
2019). The ALJ's decision will be upheld if it applies
the correct legal standards and is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); L.D.R. by Wagner v.
Berryhill, 920 F.3d 1146, 1151 (7th Cir. 2019).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income on August 10, 2015, alleging a disability
onset date of July 14, 2013. A.R. 20, 189-201. Her claims were
twice denied before she received a hearing on June 16, 2017.
A.R. 20, 41, 75-90, 93-110. The ALJ concluded that Rachel was
not disabled and that she was able to perform a limited range
of light work, including her previous jobs as a telemarketer
or small products assembler. A.R. 31-32. The Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision. A.R. 1-6.
health problems stem largely from injuries she sustained in
July 2013, when-while working as a security officer at
O'Hare Airport-she tripped on an x-ray machine and fell,
injuring her neck, shoulders, wrists, lower back, and knees.
A.R. 392. Since her injury, Rachel has complained of neck and
back pain, as well as numbness and tingling in both hands and
in her left foot. See, e.g., A.R. 368, 433, 437,
448. A 2013 x-ray revealed multilevel degenerative changes,
spinal stenosis, and facet arthropathy. A.R. 367-68, 519-20.
Arthrograms of Rachel's shoulders showed small tears and
were consistent with impingement. Id.
February 2014, Dr. Espinosa, a neurosurgeon, treated Rachel
and noted she had paraspinal tenderness, antalgic weakness of
the bilateral deltoids, and decreased sensation in fingers on
both of her hands. A.R. 462-64. Dr. Espinosa reviewed a 2013
MRI of Rachel's spine and concluded it showed herniations
of vertebrae, causing moderately severe central canal
stenosis (an abnormal narrowing), as well as signs of
myelopathy (a functional disturbance or pathological change
in the spinal cord). A.R. 464; see also stenosis and
myelopathy, Dorland's Online Medical Dictionary
(32nd. ed. 2012),
https://www.dorlands.com/dorlands/index.jsp. An orthopedic
surgeon, Dr. Patari, performed a right shoulder arthroscopic
surgery on May 27, 2014. A.R. 521-23. A few months later, Dr.
Espinosa performed a cervical discectomy and fusion. A.R.
her surgeries, Rachel continued to report neck and shoulder
pain and stiffness, as well as burning, numbness, and
tingling in her hands. A.R. 447-58, 466- 68, 474-84. Dr.
Patari diagnosed impingement, recommended more aggressive
therapy for Rachel to regain her range of motion, and told
Rachel that she should expect a normal return of function.
A.R. 504. A January 2015 upper extremity EMG showed signs of
peripheral neuropathy. A.R. 472. In March, Rachel tried to
return to work. See A.R. 226. A few months later, a
traveler ran over her left foot with a suitcase, and Rachel
was treated for neuritis and contusion. A.R. 542, 551. By
early July, she stopped working because her employer could
not accommodate her restrictions. A.R. 244, 258-59; see
also A.R. 76 (Dr. Dow noting that this period was an
unsuccessful work attempt and should not affect the potential
onset date). Rachel did not work in 2016 or 2017. A.R. 226.
visited Dr. Patari again in April 2016, complaining of left
hand and shoulder pain and noting that she still had tingling
in both hands. A.R. 500. Dr. Patari's exam indicated left
scapular and shoulder strain. Id. He ordered an MRI
and recommended physical therapy for scapular strengthening.
Id. The MRI revealed a high-grade partial-thickness
interstitial tear, and Dr. Patari recommended a left shoulder
arthroscopy and rotator cuff repair. A.R. 499. In January
2017, Dr. Patari noted that Rachel continued to suffer from
right shoulder and joint impingement. A.R. 497.
Espinosa completed a Work Capacity Evaluation for the
Department of Labor on May 1, 2015, noting that Rachel had
reached maximum medical improvement and had permanent work
limitations. A.R. 431. He noted Rachel could only sit for
four hours, walk for three, and stand for two; should never
reach overhead; and could only reach, twist, and bend and
stoop up to two hours each. Id. He further noted
that Rachel could perform repetitive movements with her
wrists for only one hour and repetitive movements with her
elbows for one hour. Id. Finally, he noted she was
limited to pushing, pulling, and lifting up to 21 pounds for
4 hours. Id.
testified at the hearing. When the ALJ asked her about her
wrist braces, Rachel responded that she had peripheral
neuropathy and that bending her hands caused a kink in the
nerve and made her hands tingle and burn. A.R. 55-56. Rachel
said she wore the braces at home and when she slept, but that
she usually did not wear them outside of the house because
they prevented her from picking anything up. A.R. 56-57. The
ALJ noted that she had not seen the peripheral neuropathy
diagnosis in the record but that she may have missed it, and
Rachel's attorney pointed her to citations in the record.
testified that despite her right shoulder surgery, she could
not reach behind her or above her head and that when she
reached in front of her she felt pulling in her shoulder,
neck, and in the middle of her back. A.R. 58. She said she
suffered unpredictable episodes, where her hands would hurt
and shake, and she would have to lay down until the episode
passed. A.R. 58. Rachel also testified that her left foot
burned and tingled, requiring her to sit down and elevate her
foot four or five times a day. A.R. 59-60. Rachel stated her
daughter opened any cans or bottles for her and got things
out of upper cabinets so she would not have to reach
overhead. A.R. 61. She also noted that while she could clean
her condo, it took her much longer than it used to and that
her daughter had to help move any furniture. A.R. 61. Rachel
testified that she tried not to be on her feet more than a
couple of hours per day to try to prevent the tingling and
burning, because once it started it could last for days. A.R.
62. Sitting for extended periods caused severe back pain,
which she described as feeling like somebody was stabbing
her. A.R. 62-63. Rachel said she rarely used a computer,
because of her hand condition, and she explained she could
not work as a telemarketer, for example, because the constant
reaching for the phone would be extremely painful. A.R. 64.
hearing, both the ALJ and Rachel's attorney questioned
the vocational expert. The ALJ asked whether there was
relevant work for Rachel assuming she could never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolding; could not kneel or crawl, but
could occasionally stoop and crouch; and could frequently
reach in all directions except overhead; but could only
occasionally use left foot controls. A.R. 67. The expert
responded that with those restrictions an individual could
work as a telemarketer or a small products assembler. A.R.
67. Next, she asked whether any of those jobs would allow
Rachel to alternate sitting and standing every thirty
minutes. A.R. 68. He responded that the added condition of
alternating sitting and standing would eliminate all of
Rachel's past work. Id. The ALJ then asked
whether further ...