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Blessent v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 9, 2019

MARY BLESSENT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          MICHAEL M. MIHM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff Mary Blessent's (“Blessent” or “Plaintiff”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) and Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) Motion for Summary Affirmance (ECF No. 16). For the reasons stated herein, Blessent's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. The Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance is DENIED. This matter is REVERSED and REMANDED to the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for further proceedings consistent with this Order. This case is now TERMINATED.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as the claims asserted in the Complaint present a federal question under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 1).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 26, 2015, Blessent filed for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging disability beginning on November 19, 2014. Tr. at 13.[1] The claim was initially denied on August 25, 2015, and upon reconsideration on December 21, 2015. Id. On January 1, 2016, Blessent filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ, and her request was granted. Id. On May 30, 2017, Blessent and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”) testified at a hearing held before ALJ Gerard J. Rickert in Peoria, Illinois. Id. On August 30, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying her benefits. Id. Blessent filed a request for review on September 12, 2017, and the Appeals Council denied her request on May 11, 2018. Id. at 1-3. Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981, 416.1455, 416.1481. On July 16, 2018, Blessent filed this action (ECF No. 1) seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and now moves for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11). This Opinion follows.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Blessent was born on December 29, 1965. Tr. at 40. She is 5'4” and weighed 229 pounds at the time of the ALJ hearing. Id. She graduated from high school and obtained her Associate Degree in Criminal Justice from Heartland Community College. Id. at 41-42. In the past fifteen years, Blessent worked as an inserting machine operator, insurance clerk, general clerk, route delivery driver, checker, and mail clerk. Id. at 43. Blessent alleged she was unable to work starting on November 19, 2014, due to issues that resulted from her breast cancer and double mastectomy, specifically: neuropathy, anxiety, depression, and “chemo brain.” Id.

         I. Hearing Testimony

         On May 30, 2017, Blessent and VE Theresa Wolford testified before ALJ Rickert. A summary of their testimony follows.

         A. Blessent's Testimony

         On the day of the hearing, Blessent was fifty-one years old and married. Id. at 40-41. She had no dependent children living with her, but had four cats. Id. at 41. Her husband drove her to the hearing. Id.

         Blessent discovered she had breast cancer in the summer of 2014 and underwent a double mastectomy on November 19, 2014. Id. at 43. She has not worked since her surgery. Id. Blessent testified she had problems that resulted from the cancer, namely: neuropathy, anxiety, depression, and “chemo brain.” Id. She testified that these medical issues interfered with her ability to work. Id. at 44.

         She was prescribed hydrocodone for the pain she experiences in her hands and feet. Id. Blessent testified the medication helps, but she still experiences pain. Id. at 45. She further testified her pain interferes with daily activities, and she can hardly do anything for more than fifteen minutes. Id.

         She was also prescribed antidepressant medications by three different physicians. Id. at 46. Blessent testified her depression makes her often feel sad and affects her ability to concentrate. Id. Blessent also testified she has anxiety attacks at least two or three times a week that last approximately five minutes. Id. at 46-47, 56. Any confrontation will trigger an anxiety attack. Id. at 56.

         Blessent also testified that she has memory problems. Id. at 47. Some of her memory problems include not remembering to take her medications on time and forgetting doctor appointments; however, she has a phone application that reminds her of both items. Id. Blessent stated she also has symptoms of “chemo brain, ” which causes difficulties having conversations with individuals, because she cannot find the words. Id. at 48.

         On a typical day, Blessent testified she wakes up around 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. and has cereal and coffee for breakfast. Id. Her husband might help her do laundry. Id. He will take the load of clothes downstairs. Id. Afterwards, she will put them in the washer and dryer. Id. Once the clothes dry, her husband brings them up the stairs. Id. She folds the laundry. Id. On days they do laundry, Blessent testified she must take a nap in the afternoon, because she is so worn out from the activity. Id. Later in the day, she may also go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) meeting, followed by dinner, and goes to bed around midnight. Id. at 48-49.

         Blessent testified she tries to clean the house, but is not very good at it, and cannot clean for too long. Id. at 49. She typically cleans in fifteen-minute intervals with breaks in between. Id. She also does not cook very often, and her husband goes grocery shopping with her to ensure she purchases everything on the list. Id. Blessent does not garden, mow, or do any yardwork. Id.

         Blessent has a driver's license and drives approximately ten miles a week. Id. at 49-50. She drives to AA meetings three times a week. Id.

         She testified that she owns a home computer and uses it for surfing the web, emailing, playing games, go pay, and banking. Id. at 50. Her husband began handling the finances after she started chemotherapy in March 2015, because she had overdrawn the account a few times. Id. at 55-56.

         Her hobbies include crocheting, cross-stitching, and painting. Id. at 50. Blessent testified she could only partake in those activities in fifteen to twenty-minute intervals because her hands begin to hurt. Id. at 54. During breaks, she will typically go into another room and grab something to drink. Id. at 57. She also experiences loss of concentration and focus when crocheting and cross-stitching. Id. at 55. When this happens, she will go back and rip out the pattern to start over. Id.

         Blessent stated that fellow individuals who attend AA meetings visit her, but she is not involved in any other organization. Id. at 50. She does not go to church. Id. at 51. She watches television for a few hours in the evening and occasionally reads novels. Id.

         When Blessent underwent her double mastectomy, she would watch her granddaughter, but testified she could not pick her up or hold her, because her hands would hurt. Id. at 51, 54.

         Blessent can bathe and dress herself, but showers are difficult, and she uses a shower seat. Id. at 52. She uses the seat because her feet hurt, and she experiences sharp pains if she stands on them for too long. Id. at 53. She testified that taking a shower wears her out and she often takes a break to lie down before she can dress herself. Id. at 52.

         Blessent also testified that she smokes about a half a pack of cigarettes a day. Id. She stopped drinking on July 19, 2003. Id. She does not use any street drugs. Id.

         She has problems with stairs, specifically, going down them. Id. at 56. When Blessent goes down the stairs she takes each step one at time; however, she does not have issues going up the stairs. Id.

         B. Vocational Expert's Testimony

         The following discussion occurred between the ALJ and VE Wolford regarding the vocational hypothetical:

Q: [. . .] And assume an individual born in 1965, a high school graduate who has also earned an Associate's [sic] degree in criminal justice. Assume further that the individual has past work such as you summarized. Assume further the individual is limited to lifting or carrying no more than 10 pounds frequently, 20 pounds occasionally; no climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds; only occasional stairs, ramps, stooping, crouching, crawling, or balancing. And because of some deficiencies in concentration and attention, she would not be able to carry out complex detailed instructions. Could such an individual do her past work?
A: No, they could not.
Q: All right. Are there other jobs such person could do?
A: Yes.
Q: Please cite examples.
A: Final assembler. DOT code 713.687-018. SVP level 2. Physical capacity, sedentary. National numbers, 229, 240. Charge account clerk. DOT code 205.367-014. SVP level 2. Physical capacity, sedentary. National numbers, 204, 730. Document preparer. DOT code […] 249.587-019. SVP level 2. Physical capacity, sedentary. National numbers, 97, 252.
Q: Okay. Would there be any jobs that exceed the demands of sedentary work such a person could do?
A: No, your honor.
Q: Okay. What in the assumed limitations would rule out virtually all light work?
A: The lifting restriction.
Q: Lifting was 10 pounds frequently, 20 pounds occasionally.
A: Oh, I had 10 pounds. I'm sorry.
Q: Okay […] So are there any jobs you could cite?
A: Yes. ...

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