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Janie Blue v. Michael J. Astrue

April 15, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Faith S. Hochberg



HOCHBERG, District Judge:

This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Janie Blue's motion to review a final determination of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") pursuant to the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The motion has been decided upon the written submissions of the parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.


A. Plaintiff's Medical And Vocational History

Plaintiff is a 53-year-old female with a high school education and is able to speak and understand English. (Tr. 66, 89, 95) As the following discussion indicates, plaintiff was found disabled after her fiftieth birthday; that issue has not been appealed. In this case, she contests solely the ALJ's denial of disability benefits during the period between October 12, 2006, the date of her alleged disability onset, and October 23, 2007, the date the ALJ found her disabled. Plaintiff was 49-years-old at the time of her alleged disability onset on October 12, 2006. (Tr. 83) She claims to be disabled due to hypertension and coronary artery disease. (Tr. 21, 65, 90) Plaintiff claims that she had a heart attack at work on October 12, 2006 (Tr. 23). Plaintiff claims that she could not work following this incident, and has not worked since the incident. Id.

Plaintiff worked as a customer service representative for a credit bureau from 1978 until 2002. (Tr. 91) In this job, Plaintiff "taught people how to use computers and put them together." (Tr. 91) The work included: crouching for 2 hours per day; writing, typing, or handling small objects for 4 hours per day; walking, standing, and sitting for 6 hours per day; and handling, grabbing, or grasping large objects for 8 hours per day. (Tr. 91) Further, it included frequently lifting up to 25 lbs. and occasionally lifting up to 50 lbs. (Tr. 91) Plaintiff also worked as a postal service employee from July 2002 until April 2003. (Tr. 27, 91) Plaintiff testified that as a postal service employee she worked as a "casual," which included standing "all night long" and frequently "lifting boxes and throwing boxes." (Tr. 27-28) Plaintiff testified that she stopped working at the post office after her first heart attack when she was 38-years-old. (Tr. 27)

Plaintiff most recently worked as a lunch monitor at a school for three-and-a-half hours per day from September 2001 until October 2006. (Tr. 24-25, 91) Plaintiff testified she was responsible for "keeping the kids in line" and likened the job to "baby-sitting." (Tr. 91) In addition to working as a lunch monitor, Plaintiff worked for the Boys and Girls Club as a bus aide from 2004 until October 2006. (Tr. 91) She was responsible for transporting children from the school to the club. (Tr. 25, 91) Plaintiff testified she was on her feet the entire time while working as a lunch monitor and for the Boys and Girls Club. (Tr. 26) Plaintiff also worked as a stock clerk for Kohl's Department store from April 2006 until October 2006. (Tr. 26, 91) She worked the night shift from 10 PM until 6 AM. (Tr. 26). Plaintiff stood "all night" and only sat down for her lunch. (Tr. 26) Neither the school jobs nor the stock clerk position required plaintiff to lift any objects. (Tr. 26)

Plaintiff testified to having five heart attacks, with the fifth occurring on October 12, 2006. However, a consultation report dated October 13, 2006 from St. Joseph's Wayne Hospital suggests that as of that time, Plaintiff had no history of heart attacks. (Tr. 160, 183). In addition, the record contains substantial evidence from which it could be inferred that plaintiff did not suffer a heart attack when she was hospitalized on October 12, 2006.*fn1 While a 2008 medical record notes that plaintiff "does look like she has evidence of an old inferior wall MI," it does not conclusively determine if, or when, plaintiff suffered a heart attack. (Tr. 250).

Because plaintiff has heart disease, she underwent heart bypass in April 2009. (Tr. 29) She testified that she no longer feels that she could perform any of her past jobs. Id. Plaintiff has difficulty breathing and has circulation problems. (Tr. 29) Standing and walking is "out of the question," as it results in her feeling "numb from the waist down." (Tr. 29-30) Performing any activity results in her feeling fatigued. (Tr. 30) Plaintiff keeps Nitroglycerin with her because of her past heart problems and high blood pressure, but had not used it since April 2009. (Tr. 30-31) Plaintiff also has a stent in her right kidney. (Tr. 31)

Plaintiff has no problems with personal care. (Tr. 98) She prepares her own meals on a weekly basis. (Tr. 99) She can do some household chores, like washing her dishes. (Tr. 99) However, Plaintiff goes outside for doctors' appointments only and needs assistance walking. (Tr. 99-100) She can take public transportation but she cannot drive a car due to numbness on her right side. (Tr. 100) She grocery shops but uses a motorized chair to do so. (Tr. 100). She can only walk eight steps before needing to stop and rest. (Tr. 102) Overall, she is able to take care of her personal needs, but at a slower pace due to her illnesses. (Tr. 120)

On October 12, 2006, Plaintiff went to the emergency room at St. Joseph's Wayne Hospital complaining of chest pain. (Tr. 151) She woke up that morning with severe back pain and took Motrin to relieve the pain. (Tr. 153) Later that night, around 9 PM, she felt "heavy" chest pain that radiated to her back, causing nausea and vomiting. (Tr. 153) The paramedics were called and she was given nitroglycerin. (Tr. 157) Upon arrival at the emergency room, Plaintiff was chest pain free. (Tr. 157) Additionally, she had no shortness of breath. (Tr. 157) Plaintiff underwent an electrocardiogram ("EKG") with "unremarkable" results. (Tr. 156) She was then admitted to the regular floor to rule out angina and to rule out myocardial infarction. (Tr. 156) A cardiac catheterization indicated angina and indicated she had "mild" coronary artery disease. (Tr. 186)

On April 24, 2007, state agency medical consultant Dr. Yvonne Li reviewed the Plaintiff's medical record and provided a functional assessment. (Tr. 205-12) Dr. Li found that Plaintiff could occasionally carry up to 10 lbs maximum and frequently carry less than 10 lbs. (Tr 206) Plaintiff can stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour day and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour day. (Tr 206) She has unlimited ability to push or pull objects. (Tr 206) Plaintiff can frequently balance herself, occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ramps or stairs, and can never climb a ladder, rope, or scaffold. (Tr. 207) Plaintiff has no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations. (Tr. 208) Dr. Li found that the severity of Plaintiff's alleged symptoms and their effect on her functionality are proportionate and consistent with her own findings. (Tr. 210)

Additionally, another state agency reviewing physician, Dr. Raymond Briski, reviewed Plaintiff's medical record in February 2008. (Tr. 255) Dr. Briski found that Plaintiff had no significant change in her conditions since the initial claim rating with Dr. Li in April 2007. (Tr. 255) While she did undergo a procedure between the two evaluations, this would only help to improve her functional status. (Tr. 255) Dr. Briski opined that Plaintiff was capable of performing sedentary work.*fn2

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and social security income on October 20, 2006. (Tr. 11, 66, 71) Plaintiff claimed disability since October 12, 2006. (Tr. 66, 71) The claims were denied initially on April 26, 2007, and upon reconsideration on March 12, 2008. (Tr. 11, 56) After the applications were denied, Plaintiff requested, and the administration granted, a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Dennis O'Leary (the "ALJ") on April 9, 2008. (Tr. 11, 58, 60) Prior to the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset of disability to May 1, 2007. (Tr. 83) Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing on June 17, 2009. (Tr.11) The ALJ considered the case de novo and, on July 13, 2009, issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled for the period prior to her fiftieth birthday on October 23, 2007. (Tr. 17) The ALJ determined Plaintiff was ...

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