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Schiniece Morgan v. Michael Astrue

December 4, 2012


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


This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff Schiniece Morgan's ("Morgan" or "Claimant") claim for Disability Insurance 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 granted in part and denied in part. The Court finds that this matter should be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.



Morgan originally applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 10, 2007, alleging disability since June 27, 2004. (R. 23.) Her application was denied initially on October 17, 2007 and upon reconsideration on February 27, 2008. (Id.) Morgan filed a timely request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on December 21, 2009. (Id.) Morgan personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. (Id.) A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Id.)

On January 27, 2010, the ALJ denied Morgan's claim for benefits and found her not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 31.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council reviewed the decision. (R. 4-6.) The Appeals Council disagreed with the ALJ's finding that Morgan could perform past relevant work, adopted the ALJ's conclusions with regard to Morgan's credibility, and ultimately found her not disabled. (R. 5.) The Appeals Council's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner and is therefore reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See White v. Sullivan, 965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992).


A. Background

Morgan was born on June 13, 1977. (R. 43.) She worked as a cashier in a restaurant in 1994, in telemarketing in 1995, and in a variety of customer and guest service positions between 1996 and 2005, all of which lasted less than one year. (R. 141, 149.) Morgan claims disability due to narcolepsy. (R. 77.)

In her application, Morgan reported that she can perform various household tasks-using kitchen tools, making phone calls, putting on clothes and cleaning herself, carrying bags, vacuuming, doing laundry-but with the risk that she may fall asleep or experience sudden muscle loss in the middle of the task. (R. 189.)

Cleaning the house takes an entire day, as she must frequently stop to rest. (R. 190, 193.) She often makes simple, quick meals. (R. 192.) She stopped driving after she had a car accident caused by her falling asleep at the wheel. (R. 190.) She also stopped taking public transportation alone for fear of falling asleep and ending up in the wrong place. (Id.) Morgan reported that she cannot sit for long periods of time without falling asleep or having a seizure. (Id.) She requires naps after almost any activity, ranging from thirty minutes to three hours. (Id.) She rarely goes to church because she is ashamed to fall asleep during services. (R. 191.)

Morgan reported that she and her children live with her mother and father.

(R. 192.) Her socializing is limited to friends and family who are aware of her condition. (R. 194.) She relies on her mother and father to help her remember her appointments, pay her bills, manage her finances, and watch the children. (R. 193, 195.) Morgan also claims to have hallucinations and hear voices. (R. 193.)

Janie Morgan, the claimant's mother, completed a third party function report in 2007 and indicated that the claimant could not complete normal household chores, cook a meal, or drive a car, because she constantly fell asleep. (R. 157-59.) Mrs. Morgan clarified that the claimant could make a meal if she was not in a "seizing state," although it would take her twice the normal amount of time. (R. 158.) The claimant could similarly clean, do laundry, or iron, but the tasks would take her two to three times longer than normal and required her mother to constantly wake her up. (R. 159.) Mrs. Morgan also reported that the claimant could pay bills, handle a savings account, use a checkbook, and handle money just as she was able to do prior to the disability. (R. 160.) The claimant attended church and social groups on a weekly basis, although she required reminders. (R. 160-61.) Mrs. Morgan reported that the claimant could only walk for two blocks before needing a short rest and could pay attention for ten minutes at a time. (R. 161.) She had three or four seizures each day, according to her mother's seizure description form. (R. 199.) Her mother reported that the claimant once fell and hit her head during a seizure. (Id.)

Two other individuals completed seizure description forms. Morgan's cousin, Mary Roach, indicated that she regularly witnessed the claimant's seizures, which occurred at least two to three times per day. (R. 198.) Morgan's bible counselor reported that he had witnessed at least five of Morgan's seizures in a single week.

(R. 200.) He stated that Morgan would lose consciousness for thirty to sixty minutes. (Id.)

B. Testimony and Medical Evidence

1. Morgan's Testimony

Morgan testified that she has five children, ranging in age from six to fourteen, and she is not married. (R. 44.) She and her children live with her parents. (R. 47.) She completed two and one half years of college, studying business administration, sales, and marketing, and also earned a certification as a nursing assistant. (R. 44.)

Morgan testified that she was diagnosed with narcolepsy in 2004 and was prescribed medication. (R. 45.) She took the medications-Provigil and Vivactil-for one and a half years and found that they alleviated the bulk of her symptoms, although she still had occasional episodes of cataplexy. (R. 46.) She could stay awake for two to four hours without falling asleep while on medication. (Id.) Morgan stopped taking the medications when she became pregnant in 2006. (R. 45.) She has not resumed taking medications, because the Vivactil no longer works and Medicaid no longer covers Xyrem, as it had in the past. (R. 56-57.) When she has a narcoleptic episode, she can be woken up by other people, but during a cataplectic episode she can ...

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