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Hageman v. Colvin

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

September 30, 2014

LINDA K. HAGEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NOELLE C. COLLINS, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying Linda K. Hageman's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. All matters are pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Because the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, it is affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Linda K. Hageman applied for disability insurance benefits (DIB) on November 18, 2008, claiming that she became disabled on August 6, 2008, because of back pain, breathing problems, leg and ankle pain, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 293-99, 359.)[1] On January 8, 2009, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied plaintiff's claim for benefits. (Tr. 148, 169-73.) Upon plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on September 23, 2009, at which plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 91-119.) On September 24, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a candle maker and machine operator. (Tr. 149-58.) On April 7, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded the matter to an ALJ with instruction to evaluate the treating source's opinion in accordance with the Regulations; further consider and explain plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity (RFC); further evaluate plaintiff's ability to perform her past relevant work; and obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert if necessary. The ALJ was also instructed to consider plaintiff's claim for benefits in combination with a subsequent application for benefits that had been filed by plaintiff in March 2010. (Tr. 162-64.)[2]

Upon remand, a hearing was held before an ALJ on October 18, 2011, at which plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 47-90.) A supplemental hearing was held on February 8, 2012, relating to plaintiff's request to crossexamine a consulting physician. (Tr. 27-46.) On April 23, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding plaintiff able to perform other work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 11-20.) On July 3, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5.) The ALJ's determination of April 23, 2012, thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

In the instant action for judicial review, plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, arguing that the ALJ failed to develop the record by not permitting plaintiff to cross-examine the consulting physician in this case. Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Beckert. Plaintiff also claims that the RFC assessment failed to include limitations caused by her severe impairment of somatic dysfunction. Finally, plaintiff claims that the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to third-party statements regarding their observations of plaintiff's functioning. Plaintiff requests that the matter be reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for an award of benefits or for further proceedings.

Because the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports his decision, the Commissioner's final decision that plaintiff was not disabled is affirmed.

II. Relevant Testimonial Evidence Before the ALJ

A. Hearing Held September 23, 2009

At the administrative hearing on September 23, 2009, plaintiff testified in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.

At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was thirty-four years of age. Plaintiff completed high school. (Tr. 97.)

Plaintiff's Work History Report shows her to have worked as a dietary aide in a nursing home from January 2001 to February 2005. From October 2005 to July 2006, plaintiff worked as a candle maker. From September 2006 to July 2008, plaintiff worked as a cook at a restaurant. From October 2007 to August 2008, plaintiff worked as a laborer at an auto parts manufacturer. (Tr. 367.)

Plaintiff testified that she has severe pain constantly between the shoulder blades and in the lower back for which she takes Oxycodone two or three times a day. Plaintiff testified that she also takes Flexeril. Plaintiff testified that she experiences no side effects from her medications. Plaintiff testified that her treating physician has advised that her pain is caused by being twisted or crooked. (Tr. 101-03, 109, 115-16.)

Plaintiff testified that she experiences headaches and associated nausea three or four times a week and that such headaches last three hours and sometimes days. Plaintiff testified that she also experiences light sensitivity with these headaches and that she takes Oxycodone for them. (Tr. 108.)

Plaintiff testified that she has breathing problems as a residual effect of a collapsed lung and broken ribs she sustained from an automobile accident. (Tr. 103.)

Plaintiff testified that she also has anger issues for which she takes Xanax. Plaintiff testified that she sometimes does not want to be around people. Plaintiff testified that she has had anger issues her entire life and needed medication to "mellow [her] out." Plaintiff testified that she has not sought or received any psychiatric help. (Tr. 110-11.)

As to her exertional abilities, plaintiff testified that she can sit for thirty minutes before needing to stand or lie down, and can stand for thirty minutes before needing to sit or lie down. Plaintiff testified that she can walk about one block before needing to sit or lie down. Plaintiff testified that she can lift about five pounds. Plaintiff testified that she can bend and squat but cannot stoop. (Tr. 111-12.)

As to her daily activities, plaintiff testified that she tries to do as little as possible because of her back pain. Plaintiff testified that doing dishes, laundry, and other household chores "kills her back[.]" Plaintiff testified that she is able to do the chores but experiences pain while doing so, especially with stooping, bending, and lifting. (Tr. 104.) Plaintiff testified that her husband helps with the chores, grocery shopping, and caring for their animals. Plaintiff testified that she works harder at home than she did as a candle maker. Plaintiff testified that she could probably perform her work as a candle maker but that she would need to take her pain medication. (Tr. 105-06.) Plaintiff testified that she sleeps throughout the day because she has little energy. Plaintiff testified that she occasionally stays in bed for three or four days. (Tr. 109-11.)

B. Hearing Held on October 18, 2011

1. Plaintiff's Testimony

At the hearing on October 18, 2011, plaintiff testified in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.

At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was thirty-six years of age. Plaintiff is married and has no children. (Tr. 53-54.)

Plaintiff testified that she left her last job in August 2008 because "it was too much on [her] back." (Tr. 60.) Plaintiff testified that she did not have insurance or Medicaid assistance at that time but recently obtained medical insurance through her husband. (Tr. 61.)

Plaintiff testified that her current impairments are related to injuries she sustained in an automobile accident in 2005, and specifically, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, broken nose, torn spleen, and broken bones in the back. (Tr. 71-72.) Plaintiff testified that she currently has breathing issues but receives no treatment. (Tr. 72-73.)

Plaintiff testified that she has severe and constant pain between her shoulder blades and in her lower back. Plaintiff testified that the pain is unbearable and that she has had such pain since 2005. (Tr. 64.) Plaintiff testified that she continues to take Oxycodone, Xanax, and Flexeril and has never had an MRI or treatment from an orthopedic surgeon or neurologist. (Tr. 61.) Plaintiff testified that she experiences no side effects from her medications. (Tr. 65.)

Plaintiff testified that she also continues to have headaches two or three times a week, and that such headaches last from thirty minutes to eight hours. Plaintiff testified that she takes pain medication for the headaches and lies down or sits in a dark room. Plaintiff testified that she has experienced these headaches since 2005. (Tr. 62-63.)

Plaintiff testified that she has seen her treating physician, Dr. Beckert, since she was twenty-five years of age and currently sees him once a month. (Tr. 71.)

As to her exertional abilities, plaintiff testified that she is "up and down" all day and usually needs to keep moving. Plaintiff testified that she can sit for about twenty minutes at one time and can sit for a total of four hours in an eight-hour day. Likewise, plaintiff testified that she can stand for about twenty minutes at one time and can stand for a total of four hours in an eight-hour day. (Tr. 67-68.) Plaintiff testified that she must alternate positions between sitting and standing. Plaintiff testified that she can walk a couple of blocks. Plaintiff testified that she can lift about five pounds. Plaintiff testified that she cannot bend, stoop, or squat without pain. (Tr. 68-69.)

As to her daily activities, plaintiff testified that she tries to do housework to the extent she can but does not lift heavy loads of laundry or sacks of dog food as she used to. (Tr. 66.) Plaintiff testified that she tries to keep the house clean by picking up, doing the dishes, and other everyday "normal stuff." (Tr. 74.) Plaintiff testified that her husband and other family members help her. Plaintiff testified that she otherwise tries to relax throughout the day. (Tr. 66-67.) Plaintiff testified that she has interrupted sleep because of her back pain, and that her energy level has decreased. Plaintiff testified that she takes afternoon naps a couple of times a week. (Tr. 64-66.)

2. Testimony of Vocational Expert

Dr. John F. McGowan, a vocational expert, testified at the hearing in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.

Dr. McGowan classified plaintiff's past work as a nurse's aide as medium and semi-skilled; as a fast food worker as light and having an SVP level of 2; as a cook as light to medium and having an SVP level of 3; as a food service worker/dietary aide and sales clerk/retail worker as light and having an SVP level of 3; and as a machine operator as medium and having an SVP level of 3. (Tr. 77-78.)

The ALJ asked Dr. McGowan to assume an individual under the age of 50 with a twelfth grade education and plaintiff's past work history. The ALJ further asked Dr. McGowan to assume that the person was able to lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and walk for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; and would need to change positions for a minute or two every hour. (Tr. 79-80.) The ALJ asked Dr. McGowan to further assume the individual to be limited to "[n]o ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balancing, kneeling, stooping, crouching and crawling; no concentrated exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold or extreme humidity.... No whole body vibration." (Tr. 80.) Dr. McGowan testified that such a person could perform some of plaintiff's past work as a machine operator. (Tr. 80-81.) Dr. McGowan testified that such a person could also perform work as a wire wrapping machine operator, with 4, 500 such jobs existing in the State of Missouri and 90, 000 nationally. (Tr. 83.)

The ALJ then asked Dr. McGowan to assume the same individual but that the individual was limited to a total of four hours of standing/walking in an eighthour day and a total of four hours sitting in an eight-hour day. Dr. McGowan testified that such a person could perform work as a hospital products assembler, of which 1, 500 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 26, 400 nationally; and a shrink wrap operator, of which 1, 000 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 31, 200 nationally. (Tr. 83-84.)

The ALJ then asked Dr. McGowan to assume the person needed to change position for a minute or two every twenty minutes. Dr. McGowan testified that whether such a person could perform work depended upon the employee's relationship with her supervisor and whether they were a good and fast worker. (Tr. 84-85.)

Finally, the ALJ asked Dr. McGowan to assume the person to be able to occasionally lift a maximum of ten pounds; sit for a total of six hours in an eighthour day; stand and walk for a total of two hours in an eight-hour day; and be limited to "no ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, stoop; no concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold or humidity; no whole-body vibration and no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants." (Tr. 85.)[3] The ALJ asked Dr. McGowan to also assume that the person would have to change positions for a minute or two every hour. (Tr. 86.) Dr. McGowan testified that such a person could perform work as an electronics assembler, of which 5, 000 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 472, 800 nationally; optical goods assembler, of which 1, 160 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 68, 600 nationally; and photo finisher, of which 1, 690 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 144, 000 nationally. Dr. McGowan ...


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