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Amber D. Daniels v. Michael J. Astrue

April 2, 2012

AMBER D. DANIELS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Claimant Amber D. Daniels ("Claimant") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal and remand of the decision by Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Claimant raises the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered the opinions of Claimant's treating physician; (2) whether the ALJ set forth a record basis for her finding that Claimant can perform sedentary work; (3) whether the ALJ complied with the requirements of Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p in her determination of Claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 ; (4) whether the ALJ's credibility finding regarding Claimant's testimony was patently wrong; (5) whether the ALJ applied the wrong Medical-Vocational Guideline by misidentifying Claimant's age-category and that error materially impacts the case; and (6) whether the ALJ reasonably found that Claimant possessed the requisite transferability of skills. For the following reasons, the Court grants Claimant's motion for summary judgment to reverse the decision of the Commissioner, denies the Commissioner's motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision, and remands the case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

A. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Claimant initially applied for DIB and SSI on September 19, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of August 17, 2006. R. 56-57. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her applications on November 28, 2006. R. 60-63. Claimant then filed a request for reconsideration, which the SSA denied on January 17, 2007. R. 64-71. Thereafter, Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 72.

On April 2, 2009, Administrative Law Judge Janice M. Bruning ("ALJ") presided over a hearing at which Claimant appeared with her attorney, Andrew Barone. R. 26-55. Claimant and Thomas Guswald, a vocational expert ("VE"), testified at the hearing. R. 27. On May 14, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. R. 14-25. Specifically, the ALJ found Claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for about two hours in an eight hour workday; and sit for about six hours in an eight hour workday, with a sit/stand option at will. R. 21-23. Further, the ALJ determined that Claimant "has acquired work skills from past relevant work that are transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy." R. 24.

Claimant then filed for review of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied Claimant's request on February 4, 2011. R. 1-3. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Claimant subsequently filed this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).The parties have consented to this Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Dkt. 10.

B. HEARING TESTIMONY - APRIL 2, 2009

1. Amber Daniels - Claimant

Claimant's date of birth is July 14, 1952. R. 105. Therefore, she was fifty-six years old at the time of the hearing. Claimant has completed education through the eleventh grade.

R. 29. Claimant receives assistance from the State of Illinois*fn2 and lives with her mother. R. 30.

Claimant's most recent employment as a teacher aide and cook ended in August 2006.

R. 115. Claimant testified that she stopped working because she "just couldn't work" and quit her job at the school because she "was out more than [she] was there, for lack of sleep."

R. 32, 47. In addition to Claimant's experience as a teacher aide and cook, Claimant's prior work experience included housekeeping and secretarial work at a hospital. R. 32.

Claimant testified that she is able to sit for twenty to twenty-five minutes. R. 35-36.

At that point, she has to stand up. Id. She is able to stand for fifteen to twenty minutes before she has to sit down. R. 35. Her balance is sometimes off, though she does not use a cane or other assistive device. R. 36. Claimant noted that her feet and legs swell at times.

R. 42-43. Her blood pressure fluctuates which results in dizziness two to three times per month. R. 43-44. Claimant also experiences dizziness when she bends down. R. 45. Claimant testified that she is able to walk a block and climb the stairs to get to her first floor apartment, but has difficulty bending, reaching overhead, and reaching in front of herself.

R. 36-37. Claimant testified that she is able to lift five pounds. R. 36. She also has difficulty using her hands to pick items up because her hands shake due to lack of sleep. R. 37. Claimant asserted that she has problems with gout. Id.

While Claimant has difficulty getting in and out of the bathtub, she is physically able to wash dishes, straighten her bed, take public transportation, buy groceries, do laundry, take out the garbage, and cook and care for her mother. R. 38-39, 41. Claimant also testified that she watches television "basically all night," socializes with family and friends, and attends church and Bible study each week. R. 39-40.

According to Claimant, she is depressed because of her sleep apnea. R. 41. She is taking Lexapro and Ativan for her depression. Id. Claimant testified that she has difficulty sleeping and sleeps on the floor with a CPAP machine. R. 45-46.

2. Thomas Guswald - Vocational Expert

Thomas Guswold testified as a vocational expert. R. 48. The VE noted that Claimant's position as a school cafeteria cook was a medium demand, skilled position with a Specific Vocational Preparation ("SVP")*fn3 of six. R. 49. Claimant also worked as a teacher aide, which the VE categorized as a light demand, semiskilled position with an SVP of three. Id. Claimant's experience as a housekeeper for a hospital was a light demand, unskilled position with an SVP of two. R. 49-50. Finally, the VE testified that Claimant's former position as an administrative clerk was a light demand, semiskilled position with an SVP of four. R. 50.

The VE testified that Claimant's acquired job skills include verbal and numerical recording, record keeping, and information given. R. 50. According to the VE, these skills are transferable to sedentary semiskilled work such as: a hospital admitting clerk, of which there are 4450 jobs; appointment clerk, of which there are 34,070 jobs; or diet clerk, of which there are 70,300 jobs.*fn4 Id. The VE noted that very little vocational adjustments would be required because Claimant's acquired skills are rated as the highest transferable so the adjustment would be limited to familiarity with the job. R. 50.

The ALJ presented the VE with a detailed hypothetical person of Claimant's age, education, and work experience. This person could lift twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently, stand and/or walk six hours during an eight hour work day, sit six hours during an eight hour work day, must avoid exposure to work hazards, heights, and moving machinery, and should never climb ladders, rope, or scaffolding but could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. The ALJ included a sit/stand option in this hypothetical. R. 51. The VE opined that this hypothetical person could perform the administrative clerk position. Id..

The ALJ then modified the hypothetical to limit the individual to lifting and carrying only ten pounds occasionally, less than ten pounds frequently, and removed the sit/stand option. With these modifications, the VE testified that the hypothetical person could perform all of the sedentary, semi-skilled jobs listed above (hospital admitting clerk, appointment clerk, diet clerk). R. 52. With a sit/stand at will option added back into this second hypothetical, the VE testified that the hypothetical person could still perform those semi-skilled sedentary jobs. R. 51-52. However, if the hypothetical person was limited to unskilled work with the same limitations, she would not be able to perform any of the sedentary jobs. R. 52. The VE also testified that the sit/stand option would rule out any work in the light category. R. 53.Finally, in response to questioning by Claimant's attorney, the VE testified that difficulties in maintaining concentration would affect one's ability to perform the sedentary jobs listed. R. 54.

C. MEDICAL EVIDENCE

1. Westlake Hospital - August 7-10, 2005

On August 7, 2005, Claimant was admitted at Westlake Hospital because she felt lightheaded and was experiencing dizziness and chest pain. R. 156-81. Testing showed normal pulmonary vascular patterns and clear lung fields. R. 166. A chest x-ray showed that Claimant's heart was minimally enlarged. Id. Echocardiography revealed that Claimant's heart had minimal aortic insufficiency of a slight degree and had no other significant abnormality. R. 168. ...


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