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Lauderdale v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

March 31, 2017

ARDELLA L. LAUDERDALE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          SHARON L. OVINGTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Ardella L. Lauderdale brings this action challenging Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Gregory G. Kenyon's decision to deny her application for Supplemental Security Income. She asserts that she is under a benefits-qualifying disability due to asthma, high blood pressure, and carpal tunnel syndrome. ALJ Kenyon's decision, she contends, is flawed by mistakes in his evaluation of the opinions of her long-time treating physician Dr. Martin Schear. She further contends that ALJ Kenyon's hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert failed to accurately reflect her mental work limitations. And, she argues, ALJ Kenyon erred in assessing her credibility. She seeks an Order remanding this case for an award of benefits or, at a minimum, for further proceedings.

         The Commissioner contends that the ALJ reasonably weighed Dr. Schear's opinions; reasonably evaluated Plaintiff's mental work limitations and thus framed accurate hypothetical questions; and, reasonably assessed her credibility. The Commissioner seeks an Order affirming ALJ Kenyon's decision.

         II. Background

         In January 2007, the Social Security Administration denied a previous application for benefits Plaintiff had filed. On June 18, 2007, she applied again for Supplemental Security Income. That application and its related evidence were at issue in ALJ Kenyon's decision and are at issue in this case.

         Yet, before Plaintiff brought the present case, she went through one round of administrative denials of her application, including a previous ALJ's decision that she was not under a benefits-qualifying disability. Plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court but before the case reached the decisional stage, the parties stipulated to a remand for further administrative proceedings. (Doc. #7, PageID #s 1712-13). On remand, ALJ Kenyon issued his January 2015 non-disability decision-again, the decision presently before this Court. (Doc. #8, PageID #s 1599-1620).

         On the date Plaintiff applied for benefits in January 2007, she was considered a “younger” person under social security law. When she reached age fifty in January 2010, her age category changed to an individual “closely approaching advanced age. She has a “limited” education, having completed the eleventh grade in high school. She worked in the past as a commercial cleaner.

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified in a hearing before ALJ Kenyon (in November 2014) that she is 5ˊ4˝ inches tall and weighs 265 pounds. Id. at 1653. She lives with her adult son and two teenage grandchildren. Id. at 1654. She has a driver's license but no longer drives due to sensitivity to bright light. Id. She has difficulty reading due to vision problems although she can read large print. Id. at 1655. She last worked a full-time job in 1999. She does not recall when she last worked a part-time job but acknowledged if she had worked at all, she was doing a part-time janitorial job in 2012. Id. at 1655-56.

         Plaintiff testified that she began having asthma attacks when she turned 40 years old. Id. at 1656-57. Strong perfumes and cold temperatures during winter aggravate her asthma. She uses an inhaler between 2 to 4 times a day and a nebulizer about once a week. Id. at 1657.

         Plaintiff described her back pain as starting in her lower back and extending down her legs. Id. at 1659. She estimated her pain severity at 8 on a 0 to 10 scale, with 10 being the most intense pain. Id. Treatment for her back has included going to a chiropractor who gave her exercises to do at home. Id.

         Plaintiff testified that she has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She has pain all over her body with the most intense pain at her shoulders. Id. at 1659-60. She has difficulty lifting her arms over her head. She has reduced manipulative ability and diminished grip strength due to carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. Id. at 1660-61. She also suffers from daily headaches with migraine headaches about 2 times per week, lasting about 2 days. Id. at 1661-62. She has cataracts with reduced visual acuity. Id. at 1662. Her eye problems sometimes make it difficult for her to watch TV. She doesn't “even fool with reading really” because of both eye and understanding problems. Id. at 1662, 1670. She explained, “I understand some things that I read, but it's mostly I can't-when I [read] I see shadows, as I told my doctor I see shadows and a lot of spots.” Id. at 1670-71. She wears glasses but they were broken at the time of the ALJ's hearing. Id. at 1663. Plaintiff has chest pain and understands that she has 55 percent blockage in her left artery. She uses nitroglycerin patches and “pain patches.” Id. at 1672. And, she has high blood pressure, which causes her feet and hands to swell, and she has diabetes. Id. at 1672-73.

         As to mental health difficulties, Plaintiff has experienced auditory hallucinations since she was 20 years old. Id. at 1663. She hears them every day. She has self-harming thoughts, sometimes when the holidays are approaching. She experiences crying spells and difficulty concentrating due to depression. Id. at 1664-65. She also experiences panic attacks when she thinks people are following her. Id. at 1665-66. She takes medication that makes her sleepy and causes her to sleep during the daytime. When she wakes up at night, medication helps calm her. Id. at 1666. She does not like to be around crowds of people and leaves the house only for doctor's appointments. Id.

         Plaintiff estimated that she can lift about 10 pounds, and she is limited to about 20 to 30 minutes of standing because her back will start hurting. She can sit about 30-35 minutes. Id. at 1667-68. Walking from her front door to the car causes her to get tired. Id. at 1668. She becomes short of breath climbing stairs due to her asthma. Id.

         Plaintiff is able to wash dishes about once every 2 weeks because she cannot stand for long without her back starting to hurt. Her granddaughter helps her with chores. She does not have hobbies. During an ordinary day, Plaintiff sleeps (a medication side effect) unless she has a doctor's appointment. Id. at 1668-69. When asked why she cannot work a full-time job, she answered, “Standing up, my back.” Id. at 1669.

         B. Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff has provided a well-written and accurate description of the pertinent medical evidence, and there is no need to repeat it here. (Doc. #11, PageID #s 2221-25). Yet, given the parties' present contentions, Dr. Martin Shear's opinions are worth exploring in detail.

         In December 2007, Dr. Martin Schear-Plaintiff's long-time treating family physician-completed forms addressing her work abilities and limits. (Doc. #7, PageID# 1134-36). He listed Plaintiff's diagnoses as asthma, anxiety, fibromyalgia, GERD, and hypertension. He checked boxes opining that Plaintiff could stand/walk and sit 1 hour, for 30 minutes intervals, during an 8-hour workday; and she could not lift more than 10 pounds occasionally or frequently. Dr. Schear believed that Plaintiff was extremely limited in her ability to push/pull, bend, reach, handle, and repetitive foot movements. In support of these opinions, Dr. Schear wrote, “fibromyalgia and asthma.” Id. at 1335. He also checked boxes indicating that Plaintiff was “unemployable” and that he expected Plaintiff's physical and/or mental functional limitations (specifically, the ones he identified) to last 12 months or more. Id.

         In response to interrogatories in April 2009, Dr. Schear summarized the medical problems he has treated Plaintiff for as follows: “Patient has been treated for multiple arthralgia, asthma, chronic sinusitis, obstructive sleep apnea, low back pain, depression, headaches, CTS, Gerd, urinary frequency, hypokalemia, and fibromyalgia.” Id. at 1476. He opined that Plaintiff could not be prompt and regular in work attendance “due to multiple medical problems.” Id. He believed that fibromyalgia, multiple arthralgia, and asthma limited Plaintiff to lifting and carrying 6 to 10 pounds. Id. at 1478. He noted that fibromyalgia, multiple arthralgia, and asthma limited her to 1 hour of standing/walking and 4 to 5 hours of sitting (½ hour without interruption) during an 8-hour workday. Id. at 1478-79. He also opined that fibromyalgia, multiple arthralgia, and asthma completely prevented Plaintiff from climbing, balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, or crawling. Id. at 1479-80. And these problems precluded her from working at heights, around moving machinery, in temperature extremes, and in humidity. Id. at 1480-81.

         Dr. Schear concluded that Plaintiff could perform sedentary work activity but not light work, and he anticipated that on average she would miss more than 3 days of work per month due to her impairments or treatment. Id. at 1482.

         III. Supplemental Security Income and The ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff's eligibility to receive Supplemental Security hinged on whether she was under a “disability” as defined by social security law. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381a, 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). To determine if she was under such a disability, ALJ Kenyon evaluated the evidence under the Social Security Administration's 5-step evaluation procedure. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4). Moving through step 1, the ALJ found at step two that Plaintiff's severe impairments included “asthma, mild coronary artery disease, mild obstructive sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, obesity, history of (migraine versus muscle tension) headaches, a history of cataracts with some vision deficits, affective disorder with depressive features, anxiety disorder.” Id. at 1604.

         ALJ Kenyon found at step 3 that Plaintiff's impairments did not automatically entitle her to benefits under the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. #8, PageID #s 1609-10). Doing so, he determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria in Listings section 2.02 (loss of visual acuity); section 2.03 (contraction of the visual fields in the better eye); section 2.04 (loss of visual efficiency); section 3.03 (asthma); section 3.10 (sleep-related breathing disorders); section 4.04 (ischemic heart disease); section 11.00, et seq. (neurological disorders); section 12.04 (affective disorders); section 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders). Id. at 1609-10.

         At step 4, ALJ Kenyon found that the most Plaintiff could do despite her impairments-her residual functional capacity, see Howard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 239 ...


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