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Friday v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

July 14, 2017

AMIE R. FRIDAY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          JONATHAN E. HAWLEY U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Now before the Court are the Plaintiff, Amie Friday's, Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 16)[1] and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (D. 23). The Commissioner provided a supporting Memorandum thereto. (D. 24). For the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance.[2]

         I

         In March 2013, Friday filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) alleging disability beginning in September 2012. Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Friday requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and appeared before ALJ Robert Schwartz in February 2015, represented by counsel. ALJ Schwartz issued a decision concluding that Friday was not disabled. (D. 10 at pp. 15-27). The Appeals Council denied Friday's request for review in April 2016, making ALJ Schwartz's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Friday filed the instant civil action, pro se, seeking review of the ALJ's Decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in May 2016. (D. 1).

         II

         At the time Friday applied for DIB, she was 36 years old. She was living in a home, in Macomb, Illinois with her husband and their four children. Friday graduated from high school but has not worked since September 30, 2012. On the various SSA forms she submitted, she indicated that she has disabling epilepsy, fibromyalgia, and depression. Friday alleges her disability began on September 20, 2012.

         At the hearing before ALJ Schwartz, Friday's legal counsel argued that while Friday may not meet the requirement for any Listings individually, the combination of her impairments - especially the fibromyalgia combined with epilepsy-have left her disabled. Friday testified that she has a driver's license but drives sparingly, in part because of her fear of having a seizure. (D. 10 at pg. 40). She has not discussed her potential to have a seizure while driving with any of her doctors. Id. at pg. 41.

         Friday has past relevant work experience as a cosmetologist and a cashier. She stopped working as a cosmetologist in 2012 because she wanted to do something different. Shortly thereafter, she started working as a cashier and began having difficulty with pain in her legs and back. At this time, Friday said, she started having seizures as well. She ultimately quit working because she was going to doctor's appointments so frequently.

         Initially, for the first few months, Friday was having "up to four to five [seizures] a day until [her doctors] got it controlled with the medicines." Id. at pg. 44. With her current medication, Topamax, she no longer has seizures. Friday did say, however, that there are times when she feels as if she is about to have a seizure. She remedies this by laying down for a brief rest and drinking a glass of water. Friday can recover from these episodes in approximately 15 minutes and she estimates they happen approximately one to three times per month.

         A number of Friday's treating physicians assessed whether she had multiple sclerosis. Friday stated that their findings were inconclusive at the time of the hearing. She said what bothered her most was pain in her legs, back, neck, and head. Friday testified that the pain is so severe that she has difficulty standing at times and nearly collapses when she tries to do so. On days when she can stand, the longest she can stand without experiencing an onslaught of pain as a result is approximately 15 to 30 minutes. Likewise, she cannot walk more than a few blocks, sit for too long, or lift more than around eight pounds without disabling pain ensuing.

         Friday also said her hands have a tendency to go numb. This causes her to drop things occasionally. She further testified that that she struggles with balance from time to time, mainly due to dizziness, and suffers from migraines on average twice a week. Friday said she needs to take frequent breaks, but is otherwise capable of doing household chores such as dishes and laundry.

         Overall, Friday said she has good days -those where she does not experience extensive pain-approximately two to three days a month. Most days, however, are bad days and she spends the bulk of those days in bed watching TV. Id. at pg. 56. A consultative psychologist diagnosed Friday with mild major depressive disorder secondary to physical issues. Friday said she knows she has problems with anxiety, but is not sure whether she suffers from depression. In addition, she said she struggles with memory loss.

         In spite of the struggles she testified to, Friday also testified to engaging in a variety of daily activities, including some work activity, after the alleged onset of her disability. She reported that she cares for her children and gets them ready for school. Friday also said she does the laundry, reads, and watches television. She indicated that she goes shopping regularly, spends a lot of time reading with her young daughter, talking on the phone, visiting with friends, and sometimes uses a computer. Friday is able to care for her personal hygiene needs independently.

         Vocational Expert, James Ragains, also testified at Friday's hearing. Based on Friday's testimony, Ragains concluded that Friday had past relevant work history as a cosmetologist and a cashier. He stated that someone in Friday's position could perform light work, without climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolding, while being required to climb ramps or stairs and balance no more than occasionally. The person would also have to avoid even moderate exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. Ragains said that someone in Friday's position would be able to perform both of Friday's past jobs. He opined that someone similarly situated to Friday could not perform the job of cosmetologist within the same limitations previously noted and factoring in Friday's side effects from medication, her experience with pain, problems with anxiety, a limitation to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks on a sustained basis with only routine breaks, avoiding concentrated exposure to loud or very loud environments, and all allowable postural activities (ramps, stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and balancing) limited to being only occasional. She could, however, perform the job of cashier and other similar types of jobs within these limitations. Ragains provided approximate figures for the availability of some of these types of jobs, both in the state of Illinois and nationally. He also stated that his testimony was consistent with the information found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and that the portions of his testimony not specifically addressed by the DOT were based on his professional experience.

         III

         In his Decision, ALJ Schwartz determined that Friday had the severe impairments of fibromyalgia and a history of a seizure disorder. (20 CFR 404.1520(c)). Id. at pg. 20. He further determined, however, that Friday "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526)/' Id. at 23. While Friday complained about a variety of medical problems beyond those she listed in her initial DIB application, the ALJ found that the medical evidence regarding these other issues - including depression, anxiety, and multiple sclerosis - did "not cause more than minimal limitation in the claimant's ability to perform ...


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