The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRY LEINENWEBER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case arises out of the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (hereinafter, the "Commissioner") denying
Plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") under 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and § 1382(c)(3)(A).
Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to reverse the final
decision of the Commissioner and Defendant's motion for summary
judgment. The Court treats Defendant's motion as a motion for an
order affirming the Commissioner's decision. For the following
reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion and grants
Plaintiff Dorothy Clemons applied for DIB and SSI on March 9,
2000, alleging disability that began on June 8, 1995. Plaintiff's
claims were denied initially on October 10, 2000. Plaintiff's application for reconsideration was denied on March 23, 2001.
Subsequently, Plaintiff was granted a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") on April 12, 2002. The ALJ
conducted a de novo review of Plaintiff's claim and issued a
written opinion denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI
on February 11, 2003. The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's
request for review. Consequently, the ALJ's decision became final
and Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking judicial review.
A. Vocational and Medical History
Plaintiff has ten years of education. She has not worked since
1995, but was previously employed as a packer (roper) at a meat
packing company from 1977 to 1995. Plaintiff also worked as a
cashier and stocker in a shoe store.
On November 10, 1995, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle
accident and went to the emergency room for pain in her right
thigh, knee, back and buttocks. (R. 146-49). Plaintiff's C-spine
and neurology examination were normal, but she was diagnosed with
a knee and finger contusion.
Since the accident in 1995, Plaintiff has frequently sought
medical attention for a variety of alleged medical ailments,
primarily relating to pulmonary infections and back and hand
pain. On January 10, 2000, Plaintiff was seen for chills and a
sore throat. She was not taking any medications at the time. Her
physician indicated that she was not obese, and described her as
a woman who "enjoyed general good health with a history of
pneumonia approximately three years ago." (R. 154, 159).
Plaintiff was diagnosed with right upper lobe pneumonia,
nonspecific bronchial hyperactivity, influenza and arthritis in
her left knee. In late January, tests revealed that Plaintiff had
a minimal obstructive lung defect and a mild decrease in
diffusing capacity. Plaintiff said she felt better in a follow-up
On May 10, 2000, at the request of the Bureau of Disability
Determination Services (the "DDS"), Plaintiff was examined by Dr.
Roopa Karri. (R. 194-97). Plaintiff complained to Dr. Karri that
she had arthritis of the knees and hands for the past 7 years.
After examining Plaintiff, Dr. Karri reported that "the claimant
has no problems with dressing, cleaning or toileting. She drives
and shops rarely. She cooks quick meals. She can stand and sit.
She cannot walk even a block without getting short of breath. She
can go up 3-4 stairs at a time. She can pick up a coin from the
ground." (R. 195). Dr. Karri determined that Plaintiff could
"walk 50 feet without support. She can stand on his [sic] heals
and toes and squat. She can get off and on the table with no
problem . . . Hips, ankles, cervical spine, knees, lumbar spine;
normal." (R. 196). Although Dr. Karri indicated that Plaintiff's
grip strength was reduced to 4/5 in right hand, he determined
that she didn't need an assistive device because she is
left-handed. Dr. Karri also concluded that her neurologic and
mental status examinations were normal, and there were "no signs of depression,
agitation, irritability or anxiety." Id. Dr. Karri's Clinical
Impressions were as follows: "Problem #1: Asthma and emphysema;
Problem #2: Arthritis of the knees, wrists and hands; Problem #3:
Hypertension; Problem #4: History of recent pneumonia." Id.
On July 17, 2000, Dr. Virgilio Pilapil prepared a Physical
Residual Function Capacity Assessment for Plaintiff. This report
concluded that Plaintiff's exertional limitations were lifting
twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently, standing
and/or walking and/or sitting for six hours in an eight-hour day,
and unlimited pushing and pulling. Her postural limitations were
that she should only occasionally climb, kneel, or crawl, but
that she could frequently balance, stoop, and crouch. Plaintiff's
environmental limitations were unlimited except for the avoidance
of fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation. (R. 211,
In August, Plaintiff was seen for a follow-up visit where she
reported that she had no chest pain, cough, palpitations or
edema. Plaintiff's chest x-ray was within normal limits. (R.
205). On May 2, 2001, Dr. Liske diagnosed Plaintiff with acute
bronchitis. Her asthma was controlled. (R. 227). Dr. Liske
continued to examine Plaintiff throughout 2002. On January 9,
2002, Plaintiff had a Spirometry test that revealed a mild
obstruction with small airway response but no air trapping. (R.
230). On January 14, 2002, she was diagnosed with a cough and
bronchitis. On March 18, 2002, Plaintiff was seen by the doctor for complaints of back
pain. On April 10, 2002, two days before the hearing, Plaintiff
had an MRI, which revealed mild back problems. Specifically, the
MRI revealed . . . "mild disc bulging with possible tiny central
disc protrusion and mild facet degenerative . . . caus[ing] mild
central stenosis and minimal, if any, left sided neural foraminal
narrowing . . . asymmetric left side disc bulging . . . that does
not cause significant stenosis . . . disc desiccation . . .
without herniation." (R. 231-232).
The ALJ conducted a hearing on April 12, 2002 to review
Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. The ALJ questioned
Plaintiff at length regarding her various health-related
complaints, which primarily consisted of asthma, and knee, back
and hand pain. Plaintiff testified that she had not been
hospitalized for her asthma and had not had many asthma flare-ups
because she was prescribed medicine. She testified that, despite
telling her doctor otherwise, she smokes four cigarettes a day.
She indicated her knee was in constant pain and it grew worse in
cold weather. Plaintiff testified that her back pain has become
worse over the past year and she takes any available pain
medicine to relieve her back pain. Plaintiff does not use a cane
for either her back or knee pain. Plaintiff, who is left-handed,
testified that she had right-hand pain, but she told the ALJ that
such pain did not prevent her from using her hand (R. 42). Plaintiff estimated
that she could walk about two hundred feet, stand for about
thirty minutes, sit for about twenty minutes, and reach over head
with her right arm. (R. 45). Plaintiff testified that she cooks,
washes dishes, cleans, dusts, does laundry, talks on the phone,
does personal grooming, visits with people, attends church, and
goes out to eat. (R. 45-48).
The ALJ also interviewed William Schweihs, a vocational expert
(the "VE"). The VE testified about Plaintiff's previous work
experience, classifying her roper-work as heavy and her
cashier-work as light. The ALJ asked the VE:
Q. . . . Let's assume we had a person the same age,
education, and work experience as the claimant and
that person had residual functional capacity for
light work with the following restrictions. They
could only occasionally climb anything, kneel or
crawl, and they would have to avoid concentrated,
prolonged exposure to pulmonary irritants, fumes,
odors . . . Would that person be capable of
performing claimant's past work? (Tr. 59).
The VE testified that such a person could perform other packing
positions and other industrial positions, as well as cashier work
at a light level, which are all unskilled jobs. The VE estimated
that there were 7,000 roping (packing) jobs at the light-level
and in excess of 10,000 cashier jobs ...