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Willingham-Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

May 30, 2013



GEORGE J. LIMBERT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Katherine Willingham-Johnson Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Plaintiff asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in his February 2, 2012 decision in finding that Plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform her past relevant work as a claims processing clerk (Tr. 32). The Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision for the following reasons:


Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits on February 11, 2010, based on allegations that she experienced heart problems, anemia, and degenerative disc disease (Tr. 46, 82, 165, 169, 237). Plaintiff alleges that her conditions became disabling, rendering her incapable of work, as of January 8, 2010 (Tr. 165).

The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims initially on August 4, 2010, and, upon reconsideration, on October 25, 2010 (Tr. 78-81). Thereafter, Plaintiff appealed for a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on January 1, 2012 (Tr. 42). At the hearing, Plaintiff, who was represented by legal counsel, and a vocational expert (VE), testified (Tr. 49. 67). On February 2, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Act (Tr. 24-33). Following the ALJ's ruling, Plaintiff filed a request for review to the Appeals Council, which was denied on September 15, 2012 (Tr. 1-4). Thereafter, Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sections 405(g) and 1383©.


Plaintiff was born on January 16, 1949, and was sixty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's decision, a "person closely approaching retirement" under the Social Security Regulations (Tr. 165). 20 C.F.R. Sections 404.1563(e), 416.963(e). She completed high school and three years of college (Tr. 202). For the eight years prior to Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff worked as a secretary in a nursing home (Tr. 203). Prior to that, from 1999 to 2002, Plaintiff worked as a department store cashier, mail clerk, general office clerk, claims processing clerk, insurance customer service representative, and medical unit secretary (Tr. 67-68, 203).

Plaintiff was laid off from her nursing home job on January 8, 2010, the same date she alleges she became unable to work (Tr. 202). Plaintiff was laid off because her position was terminated. The letter advising Plaintiff of her termination stated that she was being laid off "due to unforeseen economic hardship" (Tr. 192).


A. Plaintiff's Heart History

In June 2004, Plaintiff underwent cardiac catheterization and balloon angioplasty following reports of chest pain, and she was discharged to home in a stable condition (Tr. 265-66). In March 2008, her doctors recorded that she was not following up with her cardiologist for care, nor was she following up with her gynecologist following problems with post-menopausal bleeding and anemia that required her to be given a blood transfusion (Tr. 383).

On June 3, 2009, Plaintiff treated at Southpointe Hospital, where she claimed to be experiencing chest pain and pressure (Tr. 300). Upon examination, her heart sounds were normal, her EKG was normal, her ejection fraction was sixty-five percent, and a stress test from the previous year was normal (Tr. 311). Plaintiff's physician assessed that her chest pain was atypical for angina with no evidence of acute coronary syndrome, and that her pain may be related to her anemia (Tr. 311). A chest CT scan was negative for a pulmonary embolism, and there was no radiographic evidence for acute cardiopulmonary disease (Tr. 340, 342). Plaintiff was prescribed nitroglycerin paste and other medications to treat her symptoms (Tr. 315). A November 2009 chest x-ray showed no significant interval change from her prior examination in June, and she had no acute pulmonary process (Tr. 332).

On March 5, 2010, Plaintiff reported to physicians at Metrohealth Medical Center (Metro) that she had tightness in her chest, which she noticed when walking approximately fifty yards (Tr. 360). Plaintiff claimed her symptoms had increased since January 2010, she had one episode of left arm numbness, and she was under additional stress due to losing her job (Tr. 360). Metro referred Plaintiff to see her gynecologist for treatment of her anemia, and noted that if her symptoms dissipated, a further cardiac work up would not be necessary (Tr. 363).

On March 5, 2010, Plaintiff contacted a Social Security field office via telephone, and reported that she was looking for a job and applying every day (Tr. 212). Plaintiff reported that she was hopeful that she could return to work, but felt that she could only handle a "sitting job" rather than a "standing job, " because she could only stand for one hour at a time (Tr. 212).

On June 3, 2010, Michael Stock, M.D. conducted a physical RFC assessment of Plaintiff based on a review of her medical records (Tr. 455). Dr. Stock found that Plaintiff could occasionally lift/carry twenty pounds, frequently lift/carry ten pounds, stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour workday, sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday, and had no limitation on her ability to push or pull (Tr. 456). Dr. Stock also found that Plaintiff could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds (Tr. 457). Dr. Stock also opined that Plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold (Tr. 459). Dr. Stock's assessment corresponds with a person who can engage in "light work." 20 C.F.R. Sections 404.1567(b), 416.967(b). In his decision, the ALJ noted that he agreed with Dr. Stock's analysis in part, but afforded it little weight because the Doctor did not have Plaintiff's entire medical record available to him, and the ALJ believed that additional evidence warranted a finding that Plaintiff could perform only sedentary work rather than light work (Tr. 32).

On June 15, 2010, Plaintiff was admitted to Southpointe Hospital for complaints of chest pain and numbness (Tr. 467). Plaintiff's ejection fraction was normal, measuring sixty-five percent (Tr. 524). Testing revealed that Plaintiff had normal left ventricular systolic function, and only mildly elevated pulmonary artery systolic pressure (Tr. 524). Testing on June 16, 2010 indicated there was no evidence to suggest she experienced a pulmonary embolism, and she did not have aortic stenosis (Tr. 48). An EKG showed no acute changes to her heart function, and doctors determined there was no need for additional cardiac testing at that time (Tr. 480). Plaintiff's left hand grip appeared mildly weak compared to her right (Tr. 481). Upon discharge, Plaintiff was advised to exercise, lose weight, and follow a low cholesterol diet (Tr. 480).

In July 2010, Plaintiff again visited Southpointe Hospital for treatment of her post-menopausal bleeding (Tr. 287). At that time, an examination showed no angina or shortness of breath, and Plaintiff's heart rate and rhythm were normal (Tr. 498-99). There was no radiographic evidence for acute cardiopulmonary disease, and no ...

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