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Brown v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina.

August 22, 2016

Crystal Weaver Brown, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Kaymani D., United States Magistrate Judge.

         This social security matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.) for final adjudication, with the consent of the parties, of Plaintiff’s petition for judicial review. Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Having carefully considered the parties’ submissions and the applicable law, the court affirms the Commissioner’s decision, as discussed herein.

         I. Relevant Background

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in January 2012, [1] pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403, and 380-83, et seq., alleging she became disabled on August 9, 2007. Tr. 190-93. Her applications were denied initially, Tr. 95-98, and upon reconsideration, Tr. 131- 34. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Tr. 146-49, which was held on August 15, 2013, Tr. 25-45. In a decision dated September 27, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 13-24. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on December 18, 2014, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision for purposes of judicial review. Tr. 1-6. Plaintiff brought this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision in a Complaint filed on January 23, 2015. ECF No. 1.

         B. Plaintiff’s Background

         Plaintiff was born in December 1973. Tr. 211. At the time of the August 2013 hearing she was 39 years old. Tr. 28. Plaintiff completed high school; she has prior work history as a corrections officer, restaurant manager, and therapeutic assistant. Tr. 216-17. In her form disability report, Plaintiff indicated she stopped working on August 9, 2007, because of her medical conditions, which she listed as depression, four herniated discs, bone and joint pain, and nerve damage. Tr. 216.

         C. The Administrative Proceedings

         1. Plaintiff’s Testimony

         Plaintiff appeared with her non-attorney representative for an administrative hearing on August 15, 2013. Tr. 25-45. The ALJ asked Plaintiff if she was familiar with the term res judicata. When Plaintiff stated she was unfamiliar with the term the ALJ explained that in her case, because she had a prior decision in 2010, the ALJ would find Plaintiff had no disability before June 10, 2010, unless Plaintiff had some reason for him not to apply that decision. Tr. 28-29. Plaintiff’s representative indicated she planned to adhere to the alleged onset date of August 9, 2007, and to argue the 2010 decision should not apply. Tr. 29.

         In response to questions from her representative, Plaintiff testified that she had an on-the-job accident in 2007. Tr. 29. Prior to that she had asthma, in 1997 and 1999 she had surgery on her left foot, and in 2006 she had surgery on her right foot. Tr. 30. Plaintiff also stated that she had problems with her back and had been seen by several doctors. Tr. 30-31.

         The ALJ resumed questioning of Plaintiff and asked her what she felt was the main reason she was unable to work. Tr. 36. Plaintiff responded, “Pain.” Id. When asked pain from what condition, Plaintiff responded: “I have bone pain. I have a right foot that’s broke, and when 1 had the surgery, the bond didn’t reconnect where they put the pins at, so that’s very painful.” Tr. 36-37. Plaintiff testified that she did not know when the pin broke, but she “started noticing pain about three years ago. . . .” Tr. 37. Plaintiff stated that she saw a doctor the prior month who recommended additional surgery to repair the broken pin. Id. Plaintiff testified that she sees other doctors to help with pain management. Plaintiff stated that she gets shots in her back and was trying to get a nerve block but her insurance company was “fighting” her. Tr. 38. Plaintiff testified that she was “waiting to get in to see Dr. McKiken[2] so he [could] fix the foot” but would not be able to see him until December because he was “booked up.” Id. Plaintiff testified she was also seeing another doctor for her arthritis and muscle pain. Id.

         Plaintiff stated that during a typical day she “[m]ostly lay in a bed” but sometimes she or her children have doctors’ appointments. Tr. 39. Plaintiff stated that lately she has had to cancel appointments more often because she has not felt well. Id. Plaintiff testified that between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. she spends five hours in bed. She stated that she tries to get up to help her mother cook by putting a chair next to the stove. Tr. 39-40. Plaintiff stated that she was teaching her children how to help with the laundry and that she is able to do the shopping. Tr. 40. Plaintiff testified that she drove five hours in a typical week and that driving generally included going to the grocery store or to doctors’ appointments. Id. Plaintiff stated that she did not watch television or work on a computer because it hurt to sit up. Id.

         Plaintiff’s representative noted a doctor’s report indicating that injections were stopped because they were no longer giving Plaintiff relief-not that Plaintiff was being non-compliant. Tr. 41.

         2. Lay Witness’s Testimony

         Plaintiff’s mother, Walena Brothers Weaver, also testified at the hearing. Tr. 41. She testified that she does most of the household chores because Plaintiff is unable to do them. Tr. 42. The ALJ had no questions for Mrs. Weaver.

         D. The ALJ’s Findings

         In his September 27, 2013 decision, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 11, 2010, the period under consideration (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairment: levoscoliosis, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can climb, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl occasionally and balance frequently. The claimant is also limited to frequent overhead reaching with her upper extremities.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on December 21, 1973 and was 33 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR ...

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