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Mitchell v. Colvin

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

September 29, 2014

CHARISSE MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN A. ROSS, District Judge.

This is a pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Charisse Mitchell's ("Mitchell") application for disability insurance 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. § 1381-85.

I. Background

On November 25, 2008, Mitchell filed an application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability since November 10, 2008. (Tr. 245-254) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Mitchell's claims on December 23, 2008. (Tr. 105) She filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on January 9, 2009. (Tr. 105) Following a hearing on February 4, 2010 (Tr. 31-65), the ALJ issued a written decision on April 15, 2010, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 105-116) Mitchell requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 15) On April 13, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded the case, directing the ALJ to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base. (Tr. 118-19)

Mitchell appeared and testified at a hearing held on January 5, 2012. (Tr. 66-98) She was accompanied by Matthew Moreno, a non-attorney representative. (Tr. 129-30) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on February 7, 2012, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 13-30) Mitchell again requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 8-9) On February 14, 2013, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. 1-3) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel , 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

Mitchell filed this appeal on March 14, 2013. (Doc. No. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. No. 12) Mitchell failed to file a brief in support of her Complaint pursuant to the Court's case management order. (Doc. No. 7) Accordingly, the Court gave Mitchell ten days to file a written statement of the reasons why she believes the Commissioner erred in her decision denying her application for benefits. (Doc. No. 14) When Mitchell failed to file a written statement of reasons, the Court directed the Commissioner to file a brief in support of the answer. (Doc. No. 15) The Commissioner filed her brief on May 22, 2014. (Doc. No. 16) Mitchell has not filed a reply. The Court will, therefore, review the case on the basis of the Commissioner's brief and the administrative record filed herein.

II. Decision of the ALJ

The ALJ determined that Mitchell met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 10, 2008, the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 15-16) The ALJ found Mitchell had the severe impairments of congestive heart failure, hypertension, morbid obesity, asthma and osteoarthritis, 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. (Tr. 16)

After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Mitchell had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of sedentary work as defined in the regulations in that she can lift or carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for a total of about two hours in a workday with the normal breaks; sit for a combined total of at least six hours in a workday with the normal breaks; no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; occasional use of ramps, stairs, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; the claimant is able to balance or stoop frequently; and should avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants. (Tr. 17) The ALJ found Mitchell unable to perform any past relevant work, but that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. (Tr. 22-23) Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate. (Tr. 32) 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 January 5, 2012. (Tr. 66-98) The ALJ heard testimony from Mitchell and Dale Thomas, a vocational expert.

1. Mitchell's testimony

At the time of the hearing, Mitchell was 38 years old and married with four children ages 23, 20, 18 and 10. (Tr. 72) The two younger children live with her and her husband at her brother's home. (Tr. 72-73) Her spouse is unemployed. (Tr. 73) Mitchell completed the ninth grade and has a GED. (Tr. 73) Mitchell has formal vocational training as a medical assistant. (Tr. 73) From 2005 to 2008 she worked at Myrtle Hilliard Davis Comprehensive Health Center as a medical assistant, taking patients' vital signs and scheduling appointments. (Tr. 70-71) She was terminated in November 2008 for absenteeism. (Tr. 71) She applied for and received unemployment benefits for two years. (Tr. 71) During that time she was looking for full-time nursing jobs; she last applied for a job in October 2010. (Tr. 71-72, 76-77) Her caseworker told her she needed to apply for jobs in order to get unemployment benefits, but it was her testimony that she had no intention of working. (Tr. 77-78)

Mitchell is 5'7" and weighs approximately 350 pounds. (Tr. 83) It was her testimony that she is unable to work because she has congestive heart failure, degenerative joint disease, high blood pressure, severe asthma, right eye blindness and blurry vision in her left eye. (Tr. 75-76) These impairments cause her to have chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches. (Tr. 79-82) Mitchell stated she has difficulty walking, sitting or standing for long periods and cannot bend her leg without pain. (Tr. 80-81) She has to prop up her leg regularly. (Tr. 81) She has been blind in her right eye since childhood. (Tr. 82) She has headaches four to five times a week, lasting all day. (Tr. 82-83)

In a typical day Mitchell gets up and helps her daughter get ready for school. When she returns from driving her daughter to school, she cleans her kitchen and watches television or reads. (Tr. 86-87) She takes frequent naps during the day (Tr. 85), but admitted she did not take any pain medication. She is unable to cook, clean her house or do laundry because she is unable to stand, but she is able to wash dishes with rest breaks and sweep her floors. (Tr. 83-85)

Mitchell has a driver's license, but hasn't driven a vehicle in over a year because she has no sight in her right eye. (Tr. 73) Mitchell testified that she doesn't go out of the house for church or social events or to visit family. (Tr. 87) She sees her doctors every three months. (Tr. 87) She smokes a half pack of cigarettes a ...


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