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Geralda C. Morgan v. Michael J. Astrue

June 4, 2012

GERALDA C. MORGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maria Valdez Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff Geralda Morgan's claim for Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Morgan's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 19] is denied, and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 25] is granted.

BACKGROUND

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Morgan originally applied for Supplemental Security Income Benefits on November 30, 2006 and for Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on December 13, 2006, alleging in both applications a disability since January 30, 2006. (R. 11, 135-50.) The applications were denied on June 8, 2007 and upon reconsideration on February 29, 2008. (R. 11, 73-76.) Morgan filed a timely request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on September 9, 2009. (R. 11, 24-72, 99-103.) Morgan personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. (R. 11, 24-72.) A vocational expert also appeared at the hearing. (Id.)

On November 9, 2009, the ALJ denied Morgan's claim for benefits and found her not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 18-19.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Morgan's request for review on November 16, 2010, (R. 1-5), leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner and therefore reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Background

Morgan was born on May 31, 1961, and at the time of the ALJ hearing, she was forty-eight years old. (R. 28-29.) She was five foot three inches tall and weighed 133 pounds. (R. 721.) She graduated high school and completed some coursework at Robert Morris College for about a year and a half. (R. 29.) She is married but does not live with her husband; her fourteen year-old daughter lives with her. (Id.) She was previously employed as a customer service representative at AT&T and as a collections agent (R. 31, 33-34, 162-65.) Morgan claims disability beginning January 30, 2006 due to bilateral hallux valgus, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and recto-vaginal fistula.

B. Testimony and Medical Evidence

1. Morgan's Testimony

Morgan testified that she had a partial hysterectomy in 2004, after which she continued to have pain and bleeding. (R. 35.) She nevertheless went back to work. (Id.) Then in January 2006, while she happened to be in the hospital after taking her daughter there, Plaintiff passed out, and emergency surgery was performed. (R. 34-35.) She suffered a ruptured blood clot in her ovary, and the ovary, appendix, a portion of the colon, and an abscess were removed. (R. 35.) Morgan stated that while closing her up after surgery, a doctor tore a hole between her rectum and vagina. After returning home, she noticed feces coming through her vagina. (R. 36.) She was later diagnosed with recto-vaginal fistula. (Id.) She has had numerous procedures to correct the problem, and she thought it was finally resolved after a surgery in June 2009. (Id.) However, in the two weeks prior to the hearing in September 2009, Morgan noticed some residue and was back to wearing pads. (Id.) While at home, Morgan often uses a hospital commode set up in her room, but she also needed to change pads or diapers four or five times a day, which takes five to ten minutes each time. (R. 52.) Morgan testified that she does not want to go to work with the discharge because it is "gross" and "smelly." (R. 41.) The fistula can also cause infection, which in turn causes back pain and cramping. (R. 50.)

In addition to her recto-vaginal fistula, she has had problems with her feet requiring twelve surgeries (R. 37), and bilateral carpal tunnel, also requiring surgery, (R. 41-42). She has had a total of thirty-nine surgeries for problems in her hands, feet, breasts, and relating to the hysterectomy and fistula. (R. 37.)

During the day, Morgan is often alone but an older daughter occasionally comes over. (R. 44.) She does not prepare her own food; she relies on her daughters to bring food to her in her room. (R. 44-45.) Plaintiff testified that she is in bed much of the time due to pain in her feet and hands. (R. 45-46.)

2. Medical Evidence*fn1

On May 2, 2007, Dr. Mahesh Shah performed an internal medicine consultative examination. (R. 720.) Dr. Shah described Morgan's laparotomy in January 2006 for a ruptured appendix and ruptured left ovarian cyst and postoperative development of a recto-vaginal fistula. (R. 721.) Plaintiff reported to Dr. Shah that the leakage was "slowly decreasing and the odor is also diminishing," and Dr. Shah noted that the fistula was being monitored. (Id.)

Dr. Herman Langner performed a psychiatric evaluation on May 2, 2007. (R. 715.) Morgan reported to him that she suffers from multiple physical problems causing great stress and secondarily depression; she did not have depression prior to the onset of her physical problems. (Id.) She was taking Bupropion and Wellbutrin for depression. (R. 716.) In relation to "Daily Activities," Dr. Langner noted: "She does what she can to keep busy. She indicates that she is extremely restricted because of her various physical conditions." (Id.) During the examination, she was tearful and presented with a flat affect. (Id.) Dr. Langner diagnosed Morgan with depression NOS and gave her a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 40-45. (R. 717.)

Dr. Jose Cintron, a colo-rectal surgeon, noted in May 2007 that the clinic had been following her progress "and even brought her to the operating room on September 26, 2006 for an exam under anesthesia which was relatively unremarkable at that time and we could not find any rectovaginal fistula at the time." (R. 788.) He continued that "[s]ince the patient was last seen in January 29, 2007, the character of what she states is her drainage has actually decreased in quantity as well as in its consistency." (Id.) At January ...


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