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Tate v. Colvin

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

March 19, 2015

CARMEN TATE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, regarding the applications of Plaintiff Carmen Tate ("Plaintiff") for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (the "Act"). The Commissioner found Plaintiff entitled to benefits only for a closed period of disability lasting from March 15, 2010 through April 1, 2011. (Tr. 12-27). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 8). Because I find the decision was supported by substantial evidence, I will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

On March 11, 2010, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she had been unable to work since March 24, 2009, due to heart problems, emphysema, and anxiety. (Tr. 144-57, 239). On June 9, 2010, her application was initially denied. (Tr. 89-93). On July 23, 2010, Plaintiff filed a request for hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 96-97). On May 8, 2012, the ALJ held a hearing. (Tr. 36-68). On the same day, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to March 15, 2010. (Tr. 208). On August 13, 2012, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was entitled to a closed period of disability from March 15, 2010, through April 1, 2011. (Tr. 12-27). On October 17, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (Tr. 7). On December 17, 2013, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the decision of the second ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND1

Plaintiff's medical records show that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2010 and underwent a left radical mastectomy the same month. (Tr. 467-71, 522-24, 832-34). Between September 22, 2010 and March 28, 2011, Plaintiff underwent several courses of chemotherapy. (Tr. 655-60, 661, 687, 717-91). In 2010 and early 2011, Plaintiff was also diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), borderline glaucoma, pneumonia, gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), chest pain not otherwise specified, and emphysema. (Tr. 422, 434, 497, 556, 587-88, 601, 607, 928-30). Since her chemotherapy ended, Plaintiff has received treatment for COPD and other lung issues, treatment for GERD, and follow-up evaluation regarding her breast cancer. (Tr. 702-15, 951-76, 990-1108). The record also contains a Medical Source Statement from one of her treating physicians, first filled out in September 2011 and reaffirmed in April 2012. (Tr. 890-93, 1005-08).

At the hearing before the ALJ on May 8, 2012, Plaintiff testified that she was 47 years old, was unmarried, and lived with her sister. (Tr. 37-38). She has a high school diploma but received special education services within the regular classroom. (Tr. 39). She smokes half a pack of cigarettes a day. (Tr. 42).

Plaintiff testified that she stopped working in 2010 due to illness and pain. (Tr. 40). She testified that she is tired and gets short of breath when getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and walking. (Tr. 43, 49, 54-55). She attributes the shortness of breath to her cancer rather than to her lung problems. (Tr. 43). She reported that she has severe chest pains every three to four months. (Tr. 58-59). She also reported that she has numbness and pain in her left side, including some numbness that goes down to her fingertips and affects her ability to move and lift with her left arm. (Tr. 50, 52). She can stand for two hours at a time but feels weak after doing so. (Tr. 57).

During a typical day, she babysits for her niece for four hours, which involves watching television with her. (Tr. 41, 56-57). She also gets lunch for her niece. She helps around the house cooking, dusting, and doing dishes, but she does not vacuum because her arms hurt. (Tr. 41-42, 56). She spends a lot of time sitting on the couch, which she does for up to two or four hours at a time. (Tr. 51, 55). She also naps each day for up to three hours. (Tr. 48).

III. STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY UNDER THE ACT

To be eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be "of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).

To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities"; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant has such impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Prior to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"), which is "the most a claimant can do despite [his or her] limitations." Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) ( citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that, given the claimant's age, education, and work experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id .; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012).

IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION

Applying the foregoing five-step analysis, the ALJ found that during the period from March 15, 2010 through April 1, 2011, Plaintiff was under a disability. (Tr. 20). However, the ALJ found that as of April 2, 2011, Plaintiff was no longer under a disability. (Tr. 27). Specifically, as to the period starting April 2, 2011, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of COPD, emphysema, and left breast cancer (Tr. 16, 20); did not have an impairment that met or equaled the severity of any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and had the RFC to perform sedentary work, "except the claimant can occasionally push and pull with the non dominant left upper extremity; the claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; the claimant should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; the claimant can occasionally reach overhead with the non dominant left upper extremity; the claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, wetness, and humidity; the claimant should avoid moderate exposure to irritants; and the claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous machinery." (Tr. 23). The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to ...


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