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Dotson v. Astrue

March 15, 2010

ELLA R. DOTSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge

ORDER

In November 2007, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") Joseph Warzycki denied Plaintiff Ella Dotson's application for disability insurance benefits. ALJ Warzycki based his decision on a finding that Plaintiff was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

In October 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (#1) against Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In April 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#7). In July 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#9). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#7).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge.

In March 1990, Plaintiff filed an initial application for social security disability benefits. The agency denied Plaintiff's application in April 1991. In March 2006, Plaintiff filed a second application for social security benefits alleging disability beginning April 3, 1991. The agency denied Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration on the basis that Plaintiff did not have enough quarters of insurance coverage. In June 2006, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. In August 2006, the ALJ wrote a letter to Plaintiff to inform her that her date last insured for disability benefits was September 30, 1990. He stated that Plaintiff must amend her alleged disability date or the ALJ would deny her claim. Plaintiff subsequently amended her alleged onset date to January 25, 1986. The ALJ noted that because of significant changes to the Listings of Impairments since the final decision on Plaintiff's 1990 claim, res judicata did not apply to the decision, thus the ALJ would review her claim on the merits.

In November 2007, the ALJ held a hearing. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. The ALJ subsequently issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits on the basis that she could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. In August 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In October 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks an outright reversal, and in the alternative, she asks this Court to remand the case for a new hearing.

Plaintiff must establish that she was disabled prior to her date last insured. Thus, the relevant time period at issue in this matter is between January 25, 1986, Plaintiff's alleged onset date, and September 30, 1990, her date last insured. In his decision, the ALJ cites various records from time periods well after the date last insured. The Court notes that these records, along with much of the voluminous record of Plaintiff's medical history, is largely irrelevant to the time period at issue in this case. While medical records slightly before or slightly after the time period at issue may provide relevant evidence, Plaintiff's other medical records are not relevant here.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff is a licensed practical nurse and she last worked in 1985. (R. 117.) Plaintiff first saw her cardiologist, Dr. Kris Patel, in January 1985. (R. 212-13.) She continued to see Dr. Patel with complaints of heart palpitations, fatigue, and dizziness during the time period at issue. (R. 167-82.) During this time, Dr. Patel noted "frequent ectopics" on three occasions (R. 176, 178, 181) and "frequent" premature ventricular contractions (hereinafter "PVCs") on three occasions. (R. 171-72, 178.) Additionally, Plaintiff underwent two twenty-four-hour Holter monitor tests which revealed "frequent" irregular heart beats. (R. 203-04.) Dr. Patel's clinic notes state that Plaintiff complained of frequent palpitations, episodic dizziness, and marked fatigue. (R. 171-172, 176, 178.) In 1988, Plaintiff still complained of fatigue, but reported only "rare" palpitations, and in 1989, she inquired about returning to work. (R. 169-70.)

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was not able to continue in her employment because of heart palpitations, fatigue, lightheadedness, and dizziness. (R. 357-58, 360.) She also testified that, due to her fatigue, she had to take breaks or naps three times per day. (R. 362.) Plaintiff's husband also testified at the hearing. He stated that Plaintiff would doze off during their conversations, and that she did not do very much, if any, of the housework. (R. 382-83.) A medical expert (hereinafter "ME") also testified. He stated that Plaintiff's Holter monitor test revealed "frequent" PVCs, and that the condition is associated with episodic lightheadedness. (R. 389.) However, he stated that, based on the record, he could not correlate Plaintiff's PVCs to her complaints of symptoms. (R. 391.) He also testified that Plaintiff's falling asleep was not associated with her PVCs, but noted that it could be related to her obesity.

(R. 396.)

II. Standard of ...


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