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Harris v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

June 27, 2013

Faye L. Harris, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant,

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

VERNELIS K. ARMSTRONG, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Faye L. Harris ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of Defendant Commissioner's ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") final determination denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§§ 416(i), 423, and 1381 (Docket No. 1). Pending are the parties' Briefs on the Merits (Docket Nos. 19 and 20) and Plaintiff's Reply (Docket No. 21). For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 24, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423 (Docket No. 13, pp. 173-79 of 434). On that same day, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 (Docket No. 13, pp. 180-82 of 434). In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a period of disability beginning October 10, 2008 (Docket No. 13, pp. 173, 180 of 434). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on March 10, 2009 (Docket No. 13, pp. 84-86, 158-61 of 434), and upon reconsideration on June 22, 2009 (Docket No. 13, pp. 89-91, 92-94 of 434). Plaintiff thereafter filed a timely written request for a hearing on August 25, 2009 (Docket No. 13, pp. 95-96 of 434).

On April 19, 2010, Plaintiff appeared with counsel for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Melissa Warner ("ALJ Warner") (Docket No. 13, pp. 3-40 of 434). Also appearing at the hearing was an impartial Vocational Expert ("VE") (Docket No. 13, pp. 29-40 of 434). ALJ Warner found Plaintiff to have a severe combination of hypertension, hypertensive headaches, bladder dysfunction, and a history of myocardial infarction and coronary artery disease with vascular stenting with an onset date of October 10, 2008 (Docket No. 13, p. 37 of 434).

Despite these limitations, ALJ Warner determined, based on all the evidence, that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of her decision (Docket No. 13, p. 42 of 434). ALJ Warner found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work with the following exceptions:

1. Plaintiff can lift five pounds occasionally
2. Plaintiff can sit, stand, or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday
3. Plaintiff can push or pull without limitation
4. Plaintiff can occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl
5. Plaintiff can never climb ladders or the like
6. Plaintiff can perform manipulative functions without restriction
7. Plaintiff can see, hear, and speak without limitation
8. Plaintiff can perform work in environments with occasional exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, respiratory irritants, and hazards
9. Plaintiff needs to wear sunglasses
10. Plaintiff needs to take one unscheduled five-minute bathroom break per non-break hour

(Docket No. 13, p. 37 of 434). Plaintiff's request for benefits was therefore denied (Docket No. 13, p. 42 of 434).

On September 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, seeking judicial review of her denial of DIB and SSI (Docket No. 1). In her pleading, Plaintiff alleged the ALJ erred by: (1) finding Plaintiff capable of performing a semi-skilled job without making a finding regarding transferable skills; and (2) relying on the testimony of the VE regarding jobs that allegedly require employer accommodations (Docket No. 19). Defendant filed its Answer on December 26, 2012 (Docket No. 12).

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. THE ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING

An administrative hearing convened on November 19, 2010, in Toledo, Ohio (Docket No. 14). Plaintiff, represented by counsel Steven Perlmutter, appeared and testified (Docket No. 14, pp. 9-29 of 40). Also present and testifying was VE George Coleman, III ("VE Coleman") (Docket No. 14, pp. 29-40 of 40).

1. PLAINTIFF'S TESTIMONY

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was a forty-eight-year old single female who resided with her mother (Docket No. 14, pp. 10-11 of 40). Plaintiff has a high school education and attended approximately one and a half years of college (Docket No. 14, p. 12 of 40). Plaintiff indicated that, while she does have a driver's license and is able to drive, she does not drive because she does not have a car (Docket No. 14, p. 11 of 40). According to Plaintiff, her primary obstacles in returning to work are her heart issues and her migraine headaches (Docket No. 14, p. 21 of 40).

Plaintiff testified about a number of her impairments, including cardiac issues, hypertension, hand pain, and bladder incontinence (Docket No. 14, pp. 9-29 of 40). With regard to her cardiac issues, Plaintiff indicated that she is tired all of the time (Docket No. 14, p. 13 of 40). She last saw her cardiologist in February 2009 but has not been able to return because of insurance problems (Docket No. 14, p. 20 of 40). Plaintiff also indicated that she does not take her prescription medications because she cannot afford them (Docket No. 14, p. 13 of 40). Instead, Plaintiff just takes her water pill and an aspirin (Docket No. 14, p. 13 of 40).

Plaintiff indicated that she has also been prescribed medication for her hypertension, which she has not had filled due to its cost (Docket No. 14, p. 14 of 40). She suffers from migraine headaches associated with her high blood pressure, sometimes experiencing these headaches four to five times per month (Docket No. 14, pp. 15, 21 of 40). Plaintiff stated that these headaches typically last one day, are "real throbby, " and are accompanied by light sensitivity (Docket No. 14, pp. 21-22 of 40). When asked how she treats these headaches, Plaintiff testified that she takes Aleve if she catches the headache in time; otherwise, she mostly sleeps it off (Docket No. 14, pp. 21-22 of 40).

In 2005, Plaintiff underwent surgery to correct her stress incontinence issues (Docket No. 14, p. 16 of 40). Plaintiff testified that her problems have since returned and are not well-controlled through typical methods such as bladder leakage pads or adult diapers (Docket No. 14, pp. 16-17 of 40). This issue forces her to change her clothes multiple times per day and she must use the restroom seven to eight times per day, including the evening and nighttime hours (Docket No. 14, pp. 17, 19, 27-28 of 40). Plaintiff indicated that another corrective surgery was scheduled, but was cancelled when Plaintiff did not receive the necessary cardiac clearance (Docket No. 14, pp. 17-18 of 40).

Plaintiff also gave testimony concerning swelling in her hands (Docket No. 14, pp. 15-16 of 40). According to Plaintiff, her hands swell and develop a rash (Docket No. 14, p. 15 of 40). Plaintiff indicated that this has happened only twice since 2005 (Docket No. 14, p. 16 of 40). Plaintiff testified that she has some trouble sleeping, often waking up in the middle of the night and watching television for two to three hours (Docket No. 14, p. 22 of 40). Plaintiff lies down three to four times during the day for a total of two to three hours per day, but does not always nap (Docket No. 14, p. 23 of 40).

With regard to residual functional capacity, Plaintiff stated that she can do light housework such as dishes, light dusting, and, within moderation, cleaning the bathrooms (Docket No. 14, p. 24 of 40). Plaintiff cooks for herself and her mother, and is able to shower, dress, and feed herself (Docket No. 14, pp. 24-25 of 40). Plaintiff can stand for one to two hours and can bend and squat down, although not too low (Docket No. 14, pp. 25-26 of 40). Plaintiff stated that she can sit for two to three hours at a time, but then has to get up because of her incontinence issues (Docket No. 14, p. 25 of 40). She can pick up or lift at least five pounds, including a gallon of milk (Docket No. 14, p. 26 of 40). She can also walk to her ...


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