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Tabers v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 22, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of defendant's final decision denying the application of Heather Tabers for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to the Civil Justice Reform Act and is being heard by consent of the parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Plaintiff filed a Brief in support of the Complaint. [Doc. 14] Defendant filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. [Doc. 20]

Procedural History

On June 21, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, claiming that she became unable to work due to her disabling condition on April 30, 2010. (Tr. 121-22.) This claim was denied initially and, following an administrative hearing, Plaintiff's claim was denied in a written opinion by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), dated February 3, 2012. (Tr. 69-73, 10-19.) Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which was denied on January 15, 2013. (Tr. 4, 1-3.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

Evidence Before the ALJ

A. ALJ Hearing

Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 4, 2012. (Tr. 26.) Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel. Id . Also present was vocational expert Delores E. Gonzalez. Id.

Plaintiff testified that she was married and has four biological children and one stepchild. (Tr. 28.) Her children are ages 11, 10, 10, 7, and 3. Id . Plaintiff testified that she lives in a one-story house with her husband and all five children. (Tr. 29.) Plaintiff's toddler weights about thirty pounds. (Tr. 51) At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was five-feet, five-inches tall, and weighed 145 pounds. (Tr. 29)

Plaintiff attended one year of college; she left college after one year because she got married. Id . She is able to read, write, and perform arithmetic. (Tr. 30.) She owns a computer and that uses it to play games and participate in social media websites. Id.

Plaintiff stated she has health insurance through her husband's employer, but does not receive Medicaid. (Tr. 31.)

Plaintiff last worked in April of 2010. Id . Her last job was at Walker Real Estate Company; she performed marketing and administrative work. (Tr. 32.) Prior to that, she worked: part-time as a center director for a pregnancy resource center from May of 2003 to November of 2003, where she supervised approximately seven volunteers; full-time as a customer service representative for a health insurance company from August of 2005 to November of 2005 (Tr. 33); part-time as an infant photographer for hospitals from July of 2004 to October of 2004; as an executive secretary at a church (Tr. 34); as a Western Union call center as a customer service representative from 2000 to 2003; as a receptionist at a steel factory from June of 1998 to August of 1999 (Tr. 35); and at multiple daycares prior to 1998. (Tr. 36-37.)

Plaintiff testified that she was diagnosed with lupus[1] in 2002. (Tr. 38.) She took medication for lupus from 2002 until 2005/2006, at which time she lost her insurance coverage and was unable to afford the medication. (Tr. 39.) When she remarried and regained insurance coverage in May of 2010, she resumed taking the medication. Id . Plaintiff stated that she worked during the period in which she was not taking medication. Id.

Plaintiff testified that, in addition to lupus, she has mixed connective tissue disease, [2] and Raynaud's syndrome.[3] (Tr. 39-40.) Plaintiff stated that she experiences the following symptoms of lupus: fevers, migraine headaches, cramping in the hands, and swelling in the joints. (Tr. 40) Plaintiff testified that she suffers from increased fatigue, as well as breakouts of red welts on her body when she is "emotionally or physically stressed." Id . Plaintiff stated that the welts are very painful and tender to the touch. Id . Plaintiff indicated that the symptoms of the connective tissue disease are the same as the lupus. Id . In regard to the Raynaud's syndrome, Plaintiff stated that it causes her fingers and toes to get cold, turn grayish blue and white in color, and become tender and sore. Id.

Plaintiff testified that she left her last job at the real estate company, because she was taking too many sick days, and because she was getting married. (Tr. 41.) Plaintiff stated that she resigned to avoid being terminated, as she had been missing three to four days of work a month due to illness. (Tr. 41-42.)

Plaintiff stated that she had no side effects from the medications she was taking at the time of the hearing. Id . She has experienced side effects from Prednisone, [4]but she only takes that for short periods when she has flare-ups. Id.

Plaintiff has also taken antidepressant drugs for depression; at the time of the hearing, she had been taking Celexa[5] for "a little over a year." Id . Plaintiff testified that she sees a counselor, Tina Churchill, once a month. Id . She does not believe her depression prevents her from working. (Tr. 43-44.)

Plaintiff has a driver's license and drives during the day; she does not drive at night because she is "night blind." (Tr. 44.)

Plaintiff testified that she cooks, washes dishes, does the laundry, and shops for groceries, but she does not vacuum, take the trash out, or do yard work. (Tr. 44-45.) She is able to walk "a couple blocks" before she needs to rest, stand for about fifteen minutes, and sit for about thirty minutes. (Tr. 45.) She naps almost every afternoon, and she spends a good portion of her days lying down on her couch. Id.

The ALJ noted that Plaintiff reported in her July 2010 function report that she engaged in the following activities: made the beds, showered, made breakfast for the family, took care of the children, did laundry, cleaned the house, made lunch, took a nap, made dinner, washed dishes, watched television, and checked her email. (Tr. 45-46.) Plaintiff testified that she still performed those activities, with the help of her husband. (Tr. 46.) Plaintiff stated that her husband was not working at the time of the hearing, and that he was disabled. Id.

Plaintiff testified that she enjoys using social networking sites on her phone. Id . She also decorates cakes for friends as her "hands allow." Id . She also attends women's ministry meetings, which are held either at her church or at an individual's home. (Tr. 47.)

Plaintiff testified that Dr. Esperanza Cleland is her rheumatologist. Id . Plaintiff stated that there had been no change in her condition since Dr. Cleland authored his report. Id.

Plaintiff testified that she saw Dr. Sarwath Bhattacharya in September of 2012, but she had a difficult time understanding the doctor. Id . She did recall telling Dr. Bhattacharya that she was capable of lifting 25 pounds. Id.

When questioned by her attorney, Plaintiff testified that she naps for about three hours during the day, and she spends about 50 percent of the remainder of the day sitting on the couch. (Tr. 48.) Plaintiff stated that she spends so much time sleeping and resting because she suffers from "extreme fatigue." Id . She is always tired, despite sleeping eight to ten hours at night. Id.

Plaintiff also rests due to the headaches she experiences. Id . Plaintiff stated that she has difficulty concentrating when she is experiencing a headache, during which time she prefers to stay in a dark, quiet room. (Tr. 49) She experiences at least one headache a week and her migraines tend to occur during a flare-up. Id.

Plaintiff testified that the Raynaud's syndrome causes her fingers to become cold, turn grayish blue and white in color, and become "incredibly painful and sore and stiff and hard to move." Id . She is unable to hold anything with her hands when this occurs. Id . Her Raynaud's episodes occur at least once a day during the winter, and "a couple times a week" outside of the winter. (Tr. 49-50.) The episodes are unavoidable and often occur when Plaintiff is in the middle of performing tasks such as laundry and preparing meals. (Tr. 50.) When they occur, she has to stop "as often as [she] can and warm [her hands] up." Id.

Vocational Expert (VE) Delores Gonzalez, testified next and described Plaintiff's past work as follows: case aide (light, semi-skilled); customer service representative, health insurance (sedentary, semi-skilled); executive secretary (sedentary, skilled); marketing administrative assistant (sedentary, skilled); receptionist (sedentary, semi-skilled); customer service representative, call center ...

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