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Jacqueline Prymer v. Michael J. Astrue

September 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. P. Michael Mahoney U.S. Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Jacqueline Prymer ("Claimant") seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's decision to deny her claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This matter is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of both parties, filed on December 22, 2010. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed. R. Civ. P. 73.

II. Administrative Proceedings

On September 24, 2008, Claimant applied for SSI and DIB, alleging that she was disabled as of December 31, 2007. (Tr. 63, 149, 152.) This application was denied initially on May 20, 2009 and upon reconsideration on October 7, 2009. (Tr. 98, 105, 107.) When Claimant's request for review was denied a second time, Claimant then filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on October 27, 2009. (Tr. 113.) The hearing took place before ALJ Lovert F. Bassett, via video teleconference between Evanston, Illinois and Rockford, Illinois, on April 28, 2010. (Tr. 61-93.) Claimant appeared and testified in Rockford with his attorney present. Vocational expert ("VE"), Richard T. Fisher, testified before the ALJ. (Tr. 144-145.) Medical expert ("ME"), Dr. Julian Freeman, also testified before the ALJ. (Tr. 146-147.)

On April 30, 2010, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled, and therefore, denied her claim for SSI and DIB. (Tr.40-55.) Claimant filed a Request for Review with the Social Security Administration's Office of Hearing and Appeals which was denied. (Tr. 1-3.) As a result of this denial, the ALJ's decision is considered the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 404.981, 416.1455, 416.1481. Claimant now files a complaint in this Federal District Court, seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

III. Background

Claimant was born on March 16, 1963, and was forty-seven years old when she appeared

at the ALJ hearing. (Tr. 53.) Claimant was approximately five feet six inches and weighed approximately 240 pounds. (Tr. 77.) As of the hearing, Claimant lived with her daughter (born 5/29/1992) in an apartment in Rockford, Illinois. (Tr. 74, 82.) Claimant has completed high school and cosmetology school. (Tr. 53, 65.) At the hearing, she claims she no longer drives due to pain in her right foot, though a function report suggests that she was driving as late as March 16, 2009. (Tr. 81, 199.)

During the ALJ hearing, Claimant maintained that she was rear-ended in an automobile accident which has caused memory loss and cerebral spinal fluid to leak from her nose. (Tr. 76-77.) In addition, Claimant avers that since the accident she cannot stand for long periods of time and her leg "goes out" on her due to a degenerative disk in her back. (Tr. 77.) Claimant asserts that she can only walk about a half block and that if she walks more than a half block she will be laid up in bed for three or four days. (Tr. 79.) Claimant also alleges that she has a walking problem due to a broken right foot that was not set in place. (Tr. 80.) When asked whether she has the mental capacity to manage her finances, she maintains that she is able to manage her own financial transactions and decisions. (Tr. 82.)

The ME also asked Claimant a series of questions. The ME asked whether the fluid leak has stopped to which she answered that the leak had in fact stopped. (Tr. 84.) The ME further inquired into Claimant's ability to manage her own financial affairs. Claimant stated that she was able to make financial decisions regarding her affairs. (Tr. 84.) The ME then inquired into Claimant's hygiene and social interactions. Claimant testified that she bathed daily and that she talked with people over the phone and generally did not have problems dealing with people. (Tr. 85.) To the ME question whether Claimant got lost, she responded that getting lost has not been a problem. (Tr. 86.) After the ME's questioning of Claimant, the ME opined that the record indicated a fairly significant head injury, enough to cause a cerebral spinal fluid leak which could imply that there was significant concussive brain damage taken place along with that. The function is not crystal clear from the record. Her testimony indicates a significant level of organic dementia being present in terms of persistence in assembling thoughts. (Tr. 87.) He further asserts that her mental functioning would limit her to one or two-step tasks but that she did not meet or equal a 12.02 listing since her social interactions and daily activities are not at marked levels of impairment. (Tr. 87-88.) The ME also noted hypertension which he claimed was enough to limit her to a sedentary level of functioning. (Tr. 87.)

A VE also testified at the hearing to characterize the jobs that Claimant previously performed. The VE characterized Claimant's previous work as a child monitor as semiskilled, SVP 3, medium work and characterized her work as a teacher's aide as semiskilled, SVP 3, light work. (Tr. 89.) Taking the VE's characterizations in account, the ALJ asserted that Claimant could no longer be employed in those positions. (Tr. 89-90.) The ALJ then remarked that the "key" question is whether she is able to stay on task in a competitive work environment. (Tr. 90.) The ALJ offered Claimant the opportunity to address the question of non-exertional limitations, and Claimant's attorney was allowed to submit additional evidence to the ALJ during the hearing. (Tr. 91-92.)

IV. Medical History

While this court acknowledges Claimant's extensive medical record, the parties are only contesting the medical record as it pertains to Claimant's head injury and resulting mental impairments. Therefore, this court will forgo the usual summation of the whole medical record and instead only review ...

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