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Long v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division

April 21, 2017

Jessica Long Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.


          Iain D. Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is an action challenging the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) denial of social security disability benefits to plaintiff Jessica Long. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Plaintiff claims that her chronic panic attacks, her fear of leaving the house, and her fear of large groups would prevent her from working full-time. The ALJ found that plaintiff's limitations were overstated and that she could work certain jobs involving no public interaction and only infrequent interaction with co-workers and supervisors. As explained below, this Court finds no basis for second-guessing that decision.


         Plaintiff filed her current applications for disability benefits on January 10, 2012. The ALJ held two hearings. At the first, on November 19, 2013, plaintiff's counsel gave an opening statement, arguing that plaintiff suffered from anxiety and depression with “varying diagnoses.” R. 52. Counsel acknowledged that “[w]e do have work after the onset date, ” which counsel described was work as a telemarketer and plaintiff taking care of her mother, but counsel argued that these activities were “unsuccessful work attempts.” R. 54.

         Plaintiff testified that her anxiety problems were long-standing and that they caused her to drop out of school in the eighth grade. She had a hard time being around people and would “basically just not go” to school. R. 55.

         The ALJ asked plaintiff about her work history. Plaintiff testified that, from roughly 2003 to 2005, she worked at Burger King where she was a crew leader in charge of six to eight people. R. 56 (“I assigned specific jobs for the employees to do, counted money for the drawers, and sometimes, I would open up the store or close it.”). This was a full-time job. From around 2008 until 2010 (roughly two years), plaintiff worked as a telemarketer for a company called Heartland Introductions. She worked for five hours a night, five days a week. She read from a script and asked questions. R. 59 (“Basically, I had to ask them questions about what they liked to do for fun, what kind of person they were looking for, as to date, what things they weren't looking for.”). In 2011, plaintiff took care of her mother who was ill. She helped her mother shower and get dressed, cleaned the house, and cooked her meals. She worked there every day, for five hours a day, for about five months. In 2012, plaintiff worked out of her home styling and cutting hair. She explained as follows:

Well, I have a lot of-friend[s]-well, not a lot, but I'd say between three and six friends of my husband and I, and they would come to my home, and my husband would assist me in, like, doing highlights, dying, cutting, things like that because we have no income, and I-we had to do something to try and make the money. But that didn't last a very long because I-it was a lot of stress on me and my husband as well.

R. 60. She estimated that she did this work for five to eight months.

         The ALJ asked plaintiff why she thought she could not work now in light of her work as a crew chief at Burger King. Plaintiff answered as follows:

Now, I have a very hard time leaving the house to do things that are important. I am unable to go to places without somebody that I trust to be with me because I'm scared I'm going to panic, and there's nobody to be there to help me. I can't concentrate as to - I could then, and I think that's it.

R. 62-63. Plaintiff described her “average day” as follows:

I wake up really early. I basically try and watch TV. That's kind of hard for me because I worry a lot, and a lot of things go through my mind to where I'm not even really watching the TV. I'm more, like, just staring at the walls the whole day. My husband does the cooking and cleaning because I can't concentrate, or I think that I'm not doing it right, or I just-I just-I feel I can't do it due to my anxiety. My panic attacks, they happen when I least expect it. I don't know whenever they're going to come on, and I'm basically terrified all day long that I'm going to have one because it feels like I'm going to have a heart attack and I can't breathe.

R. 63. Plaintiff estimated that she had four panic attacks a day, and that the attack would last “about 20 to 30 minutes.”[2] R. 64. Plaintiff stated that “going into large groups of people” caused the panic attacks, although they sometimes also happened for no reason. R. 64. Plaintiff had not been hospitalized for any attacks.

         Plaintiff estimated that she went out of the house three times a week to go to an anxiety therapy group and that she went with her husband to the grocery store about four times a week. She sometimes went to the anxiety group by herself. She explained as follows: “I go alone. It was hard for me to go at first, but I've gotten kind of close with Natalie [], and ...

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