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Melissa M. v. Saul

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

January 14, 2020

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          YOUNG B. KIM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Melissa M. (“Melissa”) seeks disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) on the basis that she is disabled by severe degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, asthma, migraines, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, polysubstance abuse in remission, and obesity. After the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denied her applications, Melissa filed this action seeking judicial review. Before the court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Melissa's motion is denied and the government's is granted:

         Procedural History

         In March 2015 Melissa filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2013. (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 17, 217-31.) After her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 17, 79-104, 107-36, 146-48), Melissa requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), (id. at 17, 156-57, 161-63). In June 2017 Melissa appeared for the hearing along with her attorney, a medical expert (“ME”), and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Id. at 17, 37-78.) The ALJ issued a decision in November 2017 finding that Melissa is not disabled. (Id. at 17-30.) When the Appeals Council declined Melissa's request for review, (id. at 1-8), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015). Melissa filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, and the parties consented to this court's jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 7).

         Facts

         Melissa has worked in bookkeeping and clerical positions but was fired from her part-time job in October 2013 for saying “something dirty.” (A.R. 45-49.) Melissa asserts that beginning on December 1, 2013, she became unable to sustain competitive work because of her medical conditions. (Id. at 17, 20, 50.)

         A. Medical Evidence

         The medical records Melissa submitted to the ALJ show that she has received treatment for bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, bulimia, and cocaine and alcohol dependence. (A.R. 404, 431, 457, 459, 464, 585, 812, 832, 842, 845, 848-49, 852, 855, 866, 870-72, 878-79, 882, 885, 890, 895-96, 899-900, 903-04, 906-07, 910-12, 914-16, 1407, 1785, 1796, 1829, 1842, 1855, 1879.) She has been prescribed Trazadone, Topomax, Lamictal, Risperdal, Xanax, and other medications to treat her mental impairments. (Id. at 432, 433-50, 453-58, 461, 467, 1839.) She reported that her medications improve her symptoms. (Id. at 451.) Treatment records from May 2015 show that she experienced panic attacks once or twice per month and that her bipolar disorder and anxiety were “stable.” (Id. at 434-35; see also Id. at 917.) She denied “interpersonal problems” and showed “[f]ocused” attention and concentration. (Id. at 435, 451-52, 465, 918.) In December 2016 Melissa's bipolar disorder was noted to be “in full remission, most recent episode depressed.” (Id. at 1033-34; see also Id. at 1797.)

         Melissa has experienced ankle swelling and pain since spraining both ankles. (Id. at 368-71, 379, 415, 483, 541, 549, 556, 573, 713-14, 930, 1552.) She underwent an MRI on her left ankle, which showed flatfoot and midfoot valgus deformity, mild tenosynovitis of the posterior tibialis tendon, joint effusion and mild degenerative changes, and the possibility of mild chronic sprain. (Id. at 372-73, 550, 807-08.) She reported that her symptoms worsen with prolonged standing or walking. (Id. at 23, 368-70, 374.) Melissa has received nerve block injections and taken medications to control her symptoms. (Id. at 23, 368-71, 540.) She was prescribed a splint and ankle-foot orthosis braces. (Id. at 418, 464, 487, 543, 924.) March 2015 x-rays show an “old avulsion” in her left ankle, but nothing remarkable about the right ankle. (Id. at 23, 424-25.)

         Melissa also has suffered from knee pain and arthritis. (Id. at 368, 408, 415, 417, 464, 628-30, 713-14, 1428, 1512, 1552.) Melissa started physical therapy in January 2015, which reportedly helped. (Id. at 379, 419, 421, 932, 1057, 1057-58, 1475, 1482.) The therapist recommended that she undergo a low-level strengthening program and wear braces and shoes at home. (Id. at 379, 394; see also Id. at 479, 499-500, 540.) Melissa had x-rays taken of her knees in March 2015, which showed early osteoarthritis. (Id. at 417, 421-23, 943, 999; see also Id. at 1012 (showing joint effusion and degenerative changes).) She has treated her knee pain (reported as an 8 or 9 out of 10) with medication and injection therapy with success. (Id. at 921, 931-32, 935, 941, 950-52, 958, 960, 966-68, 972, 974, 977-78, 981, 988, 1057-58, 1490, 1498.) She has had examinations showing normal range of motion, normal gait, normal sensation, and normal strength. (Id. at 404, 407, 414, 788, 1030, 1051.)

         Melissa also has experienced back and neck pain. (Id. at 369-70, 394, 552, 569, 739, 800, 985, 1021, 1053, 1512.) She was reported to have a “guarded antalgic gait and decreased range of motion of the lumbar spine” in January and February 2015. (Id. at 369-70.) She underwent a cervical MRI in May 2016, which showed scattered small marginal disc osteophytes and facet arthropathy with mild foraminal stenosis but no significant disc protrusion or stenosis. (Id. at 1119-20, 1802.) Treatment records note “chronic pain” and show that Melissa has been prescribed Norco, morphine, and other pain and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as TENS and manual therapy. (Id. at 368, 406-08, 412, 800-05, 1053, 1060-61, 1605.) She has reported relief with TENS and manual therapy. (Id. at 1053, 1060-61.) In 2016 she was noted to have mild gait instability. (Id. at 1086, 1577, 1597, 1606, 1611.) March 2017 records show that Melissa's gait was “normal in station and . . . steady” and her low back was “much improved.” (Id. at 1053.)

         Melissa suffers from asthma and uses inhalers to control her symptoms. (Id. at 404-05, 585, 606, 619, 632, 689, 719, 1086, 1455.) She also has been diagnosed with anemia, (id. at 775, 778, 812, 816, 1047, 1407, 1410-55, 1670, 1732, 1790, 1796, 1808), chronic migraines without aura, (id. at 585, 779, 1021, 1033-34, 1047, 1051-52, 1086, 1808), diabetes mellitus, (id. at 782, 784-85, 1018, 1033-34, 1047, 1086, 1796, 1808), and insomnia, (id. at 878, 1018, 1043).

         B. Hearing Testimony

         In terms of her physical impairments, Melissa testified that she has “major problems” with her right knee and has been receiving injections. (A.R. 49.) She said that she suffers from knee pain “all the time.” (Id. at 57.) She underwent three months of physical therapy, which she said helped her knee, but then she fell down a set of stairs and aggravated the injury. (Id. at 52.) Melissa testified ...


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