United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. KNEPP II UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Jennifer Brandt-Sterrett (“Plaintiff”) filed a
Complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision to deny disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). (Doc. 1). The district court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g).
This matter has been referred to the undersigned for
preparation of a report and recommendation pursuant to Local
Rule 72.2. (Non-document entry dated April 9, 2018).
Following review, and for the reasons stated below, the
undersigned recommends the decision of the Commissioner be
filed for DIB and SSI in June 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of July 17, 2012. (Tr. 512-18). Her claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 430-36,
439-43). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 446-47).
Plaintiff (represented by counsel), and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified at a hearing before the ALJ on
December 8, 2016. (Tr. 209-38). On January 24, 2017, the ALJ
found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision. (Tr.
32-52). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, making the hearing decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.955, 404.981, 416.1455, 416.1481. Plaintiff
timely filed the instant action on April 9, 2018. (Doc. 1).
Background and Testimony
was born in October 1970, making her 42 years old at her
alleged onset date and 46 years old at the time of the
hearing. See Tr. 212. She had past work as a
secretary and bookkeeper. (Tr. 213). At her secretarial job,
Plaintiff sometimes also helped with miscellaneous tasks such
as power washing the floors. (Tr. 214). Plaintiff estimated
the heaviest lifting she did at this job was between 45-55
pounds. Id. Plaintiff also co-owned a flower shop
with her mother in 2013 and 2014. (Tr. 215). There, her
duties included checking inventory, supervising three to four
employees, and lifting flower buckets weighing approximately
35-40 pounds each. (Tr. 215-16).
testified she was was unable to work due to pain in her right
foot, left leg, neck, lower back, and left shoulder. (Tr.
216). She also suffered from chest pain, aggravated by
stress, and regular migraines. Id.
lived in a house with her husband. (Tr. 213). She had a
driver's license, but limited her driving due to pain in
her right foot. Id. Plaintiff performed chores
around the house, however, she needed “multiple
breaks” in between each. (Tr. 217). She did not vacuum
or mop. Id. Plaintiff cooked simple meals. (Tr.
218). She sometimes needed help getting out of the bathtub
because her leg did not “work properly”.
did not have any hobbies, but previously scrapbooked
regularly. (Tr. 217). She had to stop scrapbooking due to
numbness and tingling in her hands. Id. Plaintiff
taught Sunday school “for years” and was the
craft director at her church for over twenty years. (Tr.
218). She stopped attending both due to hand pain and
estimated she could sit 45-50 minutes at a time, but would be
in “extreme pain” afterwards. (Tr. 219). She
could walk one city block before losing her breath and stand
for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Id.
2012, Plaintiff saw Dawn McNaughton, M.D., due to a recent
onset of persistent fatigue with heat exposure. (Tr. 663).
Dr. McNaughton referred Plaintiff to cardiologist Rajendra
Kakarla, M.D., for further evaluation. Id.
saw Dr. Kakarla later in July 2012. (Tr. 714-15). She
reported a history of congenital pulmonic stenosis with
recent shortness of breath, palpitations, occasional
dizziness, and left-sided chest pain. (Tr. 714). On
examination, Plaintiff had normal sinus rhythm with a heart
rate of 60 beats per minute. (Tr. 715). Dr. Kakarla ordered a
24-hour Holter monitor and an echocardiogram with Doppler.
Id. He told Plaintiff to avoid caffeine and stay
home from work for two weeks. Id.
that month, Plaintiff sought treatment at the emergency room
for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and possible stroke
symptoms. (Tr. 716). On examination, Plaintiff had a regular
heart rate and rhythm with normal sounds, and no gallops,
rubs, or murmurs. (Tr. 717). She had clear breath sounds and
no respiratory distress. Id. Providers ordered
intravenous fluids and discharged Plaintiff to her home the
same day in satisfactory condition. Id.
August 2012, Plaintiff underwent echocardiogram testing. (Tr.
712). Testing revealed normal left ventricular systolic
function, with no segmental wall motion abnormality, no
evidence of atrial or vent mural thrombus, and no pericardial
effusion. Id. Plaintiff had an increased pulmonic
valve velocity “suggestive of mild to moderate pulmonic
stenosis.” Id. Plaintiff treated with Dr.
Kakarla the same day, immediately following the test. (Tr.
711). Dr. Kakarla noted Plaintiff had congenital pulmonic
stenosis and “multiple vague symptoms”; he
observed it was “unclear” if her symptoms were
“related to her mild to moderate pulmonic
October 2012, Plaintiff treated with cardiologist Balaji
Tamarappoo, M.D. (Tr. 777-78). Plaintiff reported shortness
of breath “with even minimal exertion”, chest
tightness, and occasional “twinges” of chest
pain. (Tr. 777). On examination, Plaintiff had normal sinus
rhythm with no murmurs, rubs, or gallops. (Tr. 778). A
transesophageal echocardiogram revealed a prominent ridge in
the supravalvular region consistent with supravalvular
pulmonic stenosis. Id. Later that month, Plaintiff
underwent a pulmonic valvuloplasty. (Tr. 1172).
2013, Plaintiff saw cardiologist Richard Krasuski, M.D. (Tr.
690-94). Plaintiff reported immediate improvement following
the procedure, however, she noted that progressive dyspnea
and chest discomfort began approximately one week later. (Tr.
692). Examination revealed normal sinus rhythm with no
systolic ejection murmur. (Tr. 693). Dr. Krasuski noted
“[t]he valve gradient by echocardiography today looks
pretty much as it did on the echocardiogram on the day after
the procedure and there is only mild pulmonic valve
regurgitation.” (Tr. 694).
returned to Dr. Krasuski in March 2014. (Tr. 1250-54). She
reported getting “progressively worse” after her
last appointment in July 2013. (Tr. 1252). Plaintiff reported
shortness of breath climbing less than one flight of stairs,
when this happened, she also had sharp pains in the left
mid-sternal region. Id. She denied orthopnea,
syncope, or lightheadedness. Id. An echocardiogram
revealed normal systolic function on both sides, and there
was no interval progression of the pulmonic gradient. (Tr.
1253). Dr. Krasuski noted her symptoms were “in excess
of the valvular stenosis” and referred Plaintiff for a
pulmonary evaluation. (Tr. 1254).
underwent a pulmonary evaluation in March 2014. (Tr. 763-65).
Providers found normal airway and lung parenchymal structure
and function. (Tr. 765). She had normal spirometry and
“strongly normal” diffusion capacity, normal
pulmonary perfusion, normal lung parenchyma, and normal
alveolar capillary surface area for diffusion. Id.
saw Dr. Krasuski again in August 2014. (Tr. 755-56).
Plaintiff reported worsening chest discomfort, but Dr.
Krasuski stated he did not believe her symptoms were
primarily driven by her heart valves and would not recommend
another surgery. (Tr. 756). He recommended she get a second
opinion from cardiologist Gosta Pettersson, M.D. Id.
Plaintiff met with Dr. Pettersson in November ...