United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division
ORDER AND OPINION
MICHAEL M. MIHM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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
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.
January 26, 2015, Blessent filed for Title II Disability
Insurance Benefits, alleging disability beginning on November
19, 2014. Tr. at 13. 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
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.
30, 2017, Blessent and VE Theresa Wolford testified before
ALJ Rickert. A summary of their testimony follows.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Vocational Expert's Testimony
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
A: No, they could not.
Q: All right. Are there other jobs such person could do?
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. ...