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Decker v. Berryhill

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

June 19, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          District Judge, Thomas M. Rose



         Plaintiff Loretta Decker brings this case pro se challenging the Commissioner's final decision to deny her application for Supplemental Security Income. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications through a decision by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Henry Kramzyk. He found that Plaintiff was not under a benefits-qualifying disability despite her significant health problems. This case is presently before the Court for review of ALJ Kramzyk's decision by way of Plaintiff's pro se Statement of Errors (Doc. #9), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #12), the administrative record (Doc. #6), and the record as a whole.

         On August 5, 2013, the date Plaintiff filed her application, she was 44 years old. She completed school through eighth grade. Her employment history involved short stints as housekeeper (and similar jobs) but no past relevant work.

         Before issuing his non-disability decision, ALJ Kramzyk held a hearing during which Plaintiff testified. Plaintiff was not represented by counsel or a non-attorney representative during the hearing. ALJ Kramzyk explained to Plaintiff that she was entitled to representation, but she decided to proceed on her own. (Doc. #6, p. 30; PageID# 70).

         Plaintiff testified that she could not work due to a learning disability and fibromyalgia. She has additional health problems involving her sciatic nerve in her lower back, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and depression. She explained that polycystic ovarian syndrome causes her to gain weight. At the time of the ALJ's hearing, she was five feet three inches tall and weighed 345 pounds. Id. at pp. 38-40; PageID #s 78-80.

         Plaintiff explained that she experiences pain “all over…, all the time.” Id. at p. 41; PageID# 81. Sometimes her pain is so bad she just lies down and cries. On a scale of one to ten (where ten is the worst pain), her pain is sometimes a five and sometimes a ten. Pain prevents her from sleeping well. Walking aggravates her pain. She testified, “I can't lift my arms up hardly anymore to fix my hair or anything because the muscles in my arms and back and stuff [sic]. It's hard to bend over.” Id. at p. 41-42, PageID# 82.

         Plaintiff estimated that she could lift ten pounds, walk about one-half a block, stand for about twenty minutes, and sit for about fifteen or twenty minutes. She cannot squat. Her fingers get numb after a few minutes of gripping, feeling, or manipulating items due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Id. at p. 44, PageID #84.

         Plaintiff's household activities include sweeping and sometimes vacuuming and doing the dishes. She does not cook much. Her daughter does the laundry. She likes to get together with family or friends to just sit and talk. The summer before the ALJ's hearing, Plaintiff went on a two-week vacation to Kentucky where she visited and talked with family members. She very seldom goes to the movies or watches television. She goes out to dinner with family or friends. She tries to attend church twice a week. She does not read a lot but tries to read the Bible. She does not ever use a computer. Sometimes she needs her daughters to help her get dressed. She “hurts real bad” when she goes to the grocery store. Id. at 43; PageID# 83.

         Plaintiff brought a friend, Ms. Dennis, with her to the administrative hearing. Ms. Dennis testified that she knows Plaintiff from church and sees her about once every two months. When they see each other, they talk about fellowship and they pray. They do not go to the movies together, go out to eat, or go on vacation together. Ms. Dennis has seen Plaintiff in excruciating pain when she is walking, for example. She has also seen Plaintiff melt down in tears because the pain in her back and legs are so bad that she can't do much. It is heartbreaking for Ms. Dennis “to see somebody in that kind of pain and know that there's not a lot you can do about it.” (Doc. #6, p. 54, PageID# 94).

         The administrative record contains Plaintiff's medical records, including the office notes of her treating physician Dr. Suzann Franer. In early January 2014, Dr. Franer listed that Plaintiff's diagnoses as polycystic ovarian disease, vulvar cancer (treated with vulvectomy in 2010), fibromyalgia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, morbid obesity, and depression/anxiety. Dr. Franer reported that Plaintiff's symptoms included “chronic pain in muscles” and “chronic depression/anxiety.” Id. p. 370, PageID# 410. She noted that Plaintiff had seen a rheumatologist who diagnosed Plaintiff with fibromyalgia. And, Dr. Franer indicated that Plaintiff “needs ongoing medical therapy” and “would benefit from psychological therapy.” Id.

         Dr. Franer's mention of a rheumatologist meant Dr. Robert A. Schriber. Dr. Schriber wrote to Dr. Franer in June 2013 reporting his diagnostic impressions as “1. Polyarthralgia of uncertain cause. I am not able to make a specific diagnosis. I do suspect a functional component to her symptoms (fibromyalgia syndrome). 2. Massive obesity.” Id. at p. 266; PageID# 306. Dr. Schriber wrote a very brief letter in October 2013 stating Plaintiff “does not meet musculoskeletal listings[2] for disability though she is massively obese and may have some disability on that basis.” Id. at p. 265; PageID# 305 (footnote added).

         Turning to ALJ Kramyzk's decision, he found that Plaintiff was not under a disability by conducting the 5-step evaluation required by social security law. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). His more significant findings began with his conclusion that Plaintiff had three severe impairments-polycistic ovarian syndrome, obesity, and borderline intellectual functioning-but her impairments did not automatically constitute a disability. (Doc. #6, pp. 10-13; PageID #s 50-53).

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity or the most she could do despite her impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a); see also Howard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 239 (6th Cir. 2002). Doing so, the ALJ found that despite Plaintiff's impairments, she could still perform sedentary work with many limitations, for example, never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no reading or writing; and no fast-paced production work.[3] (Doc. #6, pp. 13-19; PageID #s 53-59). And, according to the ALJ, given Plaintiff's residual functional capacity plus her limited education, work experience, and age, she could still perform a significant number of jobs available to her in the national economy. The availability of such ...

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