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Hannigan-Aleo v. Colvin

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 15, 2013

MICHELLE HANNIGAN-ALEO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge.

This case is before the court on Michelle Hannigan-Aleo's motion for summary judgment. She seeks a reversal or remand of the Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Supplemental Security Income. Cross motions for summary judgment are before this court, and for the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion is granted and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

Background

On January 4, 2009, Michelle Hannigan-Aleo applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), alleging that she became disabled as of December 19, 2007 due to obesity, female complications and hernia. (R. at 61, 108.) Ms. Hannigan-Aleo's claim was denied initially and after reconsideration. (R. at 17.) Ms. Hannigan-Aleo then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and the case was assigned to ALJ Janice Burning, who held the hearing on March 18, 2010. (R. at 16-17.)

I. Plaintiff's Hearing Testimony

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she was 5'5" and weighed 320 pounds. (R. at 32.) Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she completed high school, had no specialized training, and had never been in the military. (R. at 33.) She testified that she had panic attacks, hallucinations, trouble walking, and could only sit for twenty to thirty minutes because of her back pain. (R. at 37-38.) She testified that she was unable to bend. (R. at 39.) She testified that she had no energy and trouble with her memory and concentration. (R. at 46.) When asked if she had low self-esteem, she testified to having "no feelings at all", as well as difficulty concentrating, and frequent crying spells. (R. at 36.)

She testified that her sleep schedule had been inconsistent but that she usually slept during the day. (R. at 40.) She testified that she typically got home from work about 9am, made breakfast in order to take her medication, slept until 2:15pm, got ready to go to work again, returned from work around 4pm, and then slept more. (R. at 40.)

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she did not always take her medication as prescribed. (R. at 36.) She explained that not taking her medication as prescribed was partially due to her forgetting to take the medication. (R. at 36.) She testified that she no longer used her inhaler, and was taking medication for her high blood pressure and diabetes. (R. at 35.) She testified that she was using a Byetta gun, for her diabetes, but stopped because it was making her ill. (R. at 35.)

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she stopped taking medication for the arthritis in her back, because she decided not to mix the medication with her post-surgery Vicodin. (R. at 38.) She testified that she never had more arthritis pain medication prescribed and was waiting to see the doctor. (R. at 38.) She was taking Seroquel for her hallucinations, but went off it because it interfered with her sugar levels. (R. at 46.) She testified that she was having more hallucinations, but that they were not severe. (R. at 47.)

With regard to work, Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she was currently employed as a crossing guard. (R. at 38.) She testified that she drove to work every day. (R. at 41.) She testified that her work required her to stand for one hour, twice a day and walk into the road to stop traffic. (R. at 37-38.) She testified that her job was stressful because the drivers did not always listen, and that she had almost been hit by a car several times. (R. at 48-49.) She testified that she screamed at the drivers but not the pedestrians or children. (R. at 49.)

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she had worked consistently since she filed for SSI, on December 19, 2007. (R. at 34.) She testified that the only break in her current employment occurred after her surgery. (R. at 34.) She did not work from June 2009 until one month before the hearing (February). (R. at 34.) She testified that her job was tougher since she returned to work, and that she sometimes needed assistance. (R. at 48.)

With regard to her daily life, Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she was living in an apartment with her two children and a male friend who took care of her. (R. at 33.) She testified that she did not live with her husband. (R. at 32.) She testified that she sometimes had trouble caring for her personal needs, and sometimes needed help putting on her socks and shoes. (R. at 40.) She testified that her friend would remind her to take her medication and did so even before he moved in. (R. at 44.) She testified that her children did not help her with any household activities, but that her friend, Don, did. (R. at 47.)

She testified that, depending on her pain level, she was able to prepare meals, but that 99 percent of the time her friend helped her. (R. at 40.) She testified that she was not allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. (R. at 39.) She testified that she did not use an assistive devise to help her move, but simply took her time. (R. at 39.) She also testified that she had difficulty climbing stairs, and had to walk up two flights of stairs to reach her apartment. (R. at 39.) She testified that she only shopped at grocery stores that had electric carts available. (R. at 40.)

She testified that she could clean the dishes, but could not do laundry, due to the lifting and stairs. (R. at 41.) She had not tried to make the bed, but testified that she did not think she could because it would require lifting the mattress. (R. at 41.) She testified that she could not take out the garbage, and that when she swept, she had to pile the debris for someone else to pick up, because she could not bend over to pick it up. (R. at 41.)

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she received government support from Medicaid and used a Link Card. (R. at 34.) She testified that she utilized support services from Threshold. (R. at 45.) She testified that the people from Threshold stopped by twice a week, and provided her with transportation when she needed it. (R. at 45.) She testified that she had been in the program for over three years. (R. at 45.) She testified that a program called Thrive provided her with psychiatric support and counseling. (R. at 45.) Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she saw a psychiatrist once a month and a counselor twice a month. (R. at 36.) She testified that she did not think about harming herself. (R. at 36.) She testified that she had not sought treatment for her panic attacks. (R. at 37.)

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that it took five months and five different medications, before it was determined that Cymbalta was the right medication for her. (R. at 45-46.) She testified that she was not as sad while on Cymbalta, but that she was still depressed. (R. at 46.)

Ms. Hannigan-Aleo testified that she was not a part of any community organizations, did not go out, and had no hobbies or interests. (R. at 42-43.) She testified that, when her son was younger and in school, she did not participate in school events or parent-teacher conferences. (R. at 42.) She testified that the only friend or family member she ever saw was her sister, and that was partly because she had to get mail from her. (R. at 42.) She testified that she watched some television and used her computer for about three hours a week. (R. at 43.) She testified that she had difficulty following through and finishing what she had started. (R. at 47.)

II. Vocational Expert Hearing Testimony

A vocational expert ("VE") testified at the hearing on March 18, 2010. (R. at 49.) The VE testified that she had not discussed the case with the plaintiff, that her testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and that the job descriptions were consistent with the national economy. (R. at 49-51.) The VE testified to having familiarity with the jobs in the applicable region (Chicago, Naperville, and Joliet Metro.), hearing the relevant testimony, reviewing the exhibits and consulting the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (R. at 50.) The VE testified that Ms. Hannigan-Aleo's work as a crossing guard had an SVP of 2, and had an exertion level of light. (R. at 50.)

During the testimony, the ALJ asked the VE, hypothetically, what employment an unskilled person, limited to three-step repetitive tasks, could find if they were only able to: carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; stand for two hours a day and sit for six; not climb stairs, ladders, ropes, scaffolds, but occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally stoop and balance, kneel and crawl; and have occasional contact with the public or supervisors and co-workers. (R. at 50-51.)

The VE testified that there were three types of jobs available to such a person. (R. at 51.) The VE testified that the person could act as a sorter, which has an SVP level of 2 and exertion level of sedentary. (R. at 51.) The VE testified there were 391 sorter jobs in the area. (R. at 51.) The VE testified that such a person could be a final assembler, which has an SVP level of 2 and an exertion level of sedentary. (R. at 51.) The VE testified that there were 1225 final assembler jobs in the area. (R. at 51.) Finally, the VE testified that such a person could be an inspector/check weigher, which has an SVP level of 2 and an exertion level of sedentary. (R. at 51.) The VE testified that there were 3773 inspector/check weigher jobs in the area. (R. at 51.)

The ALJ amended the hypothetical to ask what jobs were available if that person needed to avoid interaction with the public. (R. at 51.)

The VE testified that there would be no change in employment options, and the person could perform any of the three previously mentioned jobs. (R. at 51.)

Then the ALJ further amended the hypothetical to assume that that person would be off task for 20% of the day, and be limited to working for only four hours out of every eight hour workday. (R. at 51.) The VE testified that such a person could not ...


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