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Bonner v. Colvin

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

September 29, 2014

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


JOHN A. ROSS, District Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Willana Bonner's ("Bonner") application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 404-433.

I. Background

On February 16, 2011, Bonner filed applications for disability benefits and SSI. (Tr. 116-122) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Bonner's applications on July 1, 2011. (Tr. 59-63) She filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on August 29, 2011. (Tr. 67-69) Following a hearing on April 3, 2012 (Tr. 30-54), the ALJ issued a written decision on April 13, 2012, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 7-29) Bonner requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 5-6) On March 18, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Bonner's request for review. (Tr. 1-4) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel , 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

Bonner filed this appeal on April 19, 2013. (Doc. No. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. No. 11) Bonner filed a brief in support of her complaint (Doc. No. 15) and the Commissioner filed a brief in support of the answer. (Doc. No. 22) Bonner did not file a reply.

II. Decision of the ALJ

The ALJ determined that Bonner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 20, 2010, the date of her alleged disability onset. (Tr. 24) The ALJ found Bonner had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease, but that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.)

After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Bonner had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the exertional demands of less than light work, or work which requires maximum lifting of twenty pounds and frequent lifting of ten pounds. (Id.) She can do less than the full range of light work as she is able to only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; can only occasionally reach overhead, but can frequently reach in all other directions; and must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration. (Id.) The ALJ found Bonner's impairments prevented her from performing her past relevant work as a nurse's aide and certified medication technician; however, there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that she can perform, including furniture rental consultant and tanning salon attendant. (Tr. 24-25) Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate. (Tr. 23)

Bonner appeals, contending the RFC findings are not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner maintains that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.

III. Administrative Record

The following is a summary of the relevant evidence before the ALJ.

A. Hearing Testimony

The ALJ held a hearing in this matter on April 3, 2012. Bonner testified and was represented by counsel. (Tr. 34-44; 53-54) Vocational expert Robin Cook also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 44-52)

1. Bonner's testimony

At the time of the hearing, Bonner was 54 years old. (Tr. 35) She is a high school graduate with one year of technical school. (Id.) Bonner is a certified medical technician (CMT). (Tr. 36) She last worked as a CMT in February 2010 for Angels Healthcare. (Tr. 36) Prior to that, Bonner worked as a CMT/CNA for several nursing homes where her job duties were basically the same, i.e., assisting residents with all aspects of daily living. (Tr. 37-39) Bonner testified she can no longer do this work because of injuries sustained in a car accident and her inability to bend or stoop. (Tr. 39)

Bonner currently sees Dr. Steven Granberg, a pain management specialist. (Tr. 40) Her prescription medications include Vicodin taken every four hours for pain, Flexeril, a muscle relaxant, taken once every eight hours, and Restoril, a sleeping aid. (Id.) It was her testimony that the medications help "somewhat, " but the side effects make her feel like she is "in a fog, " in addition to some constipation. (Id.)

Bonner states she can walk three blocks before her back starts tightening up. (Id.) She can sit for 10-15 minutes but then has to stand up to keep her back from locking up. (Tr. 40-41) She cannot lift more than 5 pounds. (Tr. 41) Bonner says she has bad knees, and has been talking to her doctor about a total left knee replacement. (Tr. 42) She is limited in her reaching because the muscles from her neck to across her left shoulder tighten up and prevent her from bringing her arm down without using her right hand to bring the shoulder down. (Tr. 43) Bonner testified she has been diagnosed with arthritis in her hands, knees, legs and hip. (Tr. 53) In addition she states she is bipolar[1], but admits this is not the reason she is not working. (Tr. 54)

Bonner lives alone. (Tr. 41) On a typical day she gets up around 7-8 a.m. to take her medication. (Tr. 44) If someone is with her, then she will take a bath; otherwise, she has too much difficulty getting out of the bathtub. (Tr. 41) After being up for a couple of hours, she has to lay down for 2-3 hours, depending on her pain, because her back starts tightening up. (Tr. 44) According to Bonner, she has to do this throughout the day. (Tr. 44) It was Bonner's testimony that she cannot stand up to cook, so will just put something in the microwave. (Id.) She cannot do any household chores but has family that comes over to help her with sweeping, mopping, laundry, and cooking. (Id.) Bonner has a driver's license and is able to drive. (Tr. 35) She goes to church ...

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