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Donna Sprowl v. Michael J. Astrue

September 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge



Pending before the Court is plaintiff Donna Sprowl's ("Plaintiff") motion for summary judgment and the cross-motion for summary judgment of defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an administrative decision denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

Plaintiff filed her complaint on March 18, 2011. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff filed her summary judgment motion on November 10, 2011. ( Doc. 16.) The Commissioner filed his summary judgment cross-motion and opposition on December 9, 2011. (Doc. 17.) Plaintiff filed her Reply Brief on December 27, 2011 (Doc. 18.) The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to United States Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe for findings and recommendations to Chief United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii.


A. Overview of Administrative Proceedings

On December 1, 2005, Plaintiff filed applications for Supplemental Security Income benefits, alleging disability beginning June 28, 2000. (Administrative Record, "AR," at 144-146.) Plaintiff's application was denied on initial review and again on reconsideration. (AR at 70-83, 85-90.) Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ"). On April 13, 2009, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before the ALJ. (AR at 25-69.) In a decision dated July 31, 2009, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (AR at 10-24.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR at 1-5.) Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. Plaintiff's Background

Plaintiff was born on December 15, 1954. (AR at 30.) Plaintiff completed a twelfth grade education, and participated in post-graduate vocational and technical training. (AR at 30.) Plaintiff currently lives by herself in a duplex. (AR at 29.) Plaintiff's last working experience was as a customer service representative in June of 2001. (AR at 30.)

C. Plaintiff's Testimony

On April 8, 2009, Plaintiff testified before the ALJ regarding her claim for disability. (AR at 27-69.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (AR at 27.)

Plaintiff listed her medical problems as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic back pain and severe depression. (AR at 45.) Plaintiff's depression and back pain causes problems concentrating and focusing. (AR at 57.) Plaintiff testified she saw a mental health provider every three months. (AR at 46.) Plaintiff stated she uses a cane to ambulate, which was prescribed by a nurse practitioner. (AR at 48.)

Plaintiff currently lives off General Assistance, living in subsidized housing and receives food stamps. (AR at 39.) Plaintiff dresses, baths, and cooks for herself. She also does her own laundry. (AR at 39-40.) Plaintiff owns a car, has a drivers license and drives, but not very often.

(AR at 37-8.) Plaintiff lies down and watches television most of the day. (AR at 47.) Plaintiff testified she could stand for 20 minutes, sit for 30 minutes, walk for 20 minutes. (AR at 35.)

1. Vocational Expert Testimony

A vocational expert testified at the hearing that Plaintiff had past relevant work as a customer service representative, telemarketer, and teacher's aide (AR at 63). The ALJ asked the vocational expert to assume a hypothetical individual who could lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently; sit eight hours in an eight-hour day, but needed to sit or stand at will every 30 minutes; stand and walk for up to six hours in an eight-hour day, with an option to change position every 40 minutes; not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and could occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel; perform short, simple tasks; and handle occasional exposure to the general public. (AR at 63-64). The vocational expert testified that such an individual could work as a customer service representative (AR at 64).

D. Third Party Testimony From Plaintiff's Neighbor, Bonnie Brunette

Bonnie Brunette, a neighbor, reported on March 12, 2007, that she had known Plaintiff for 6 years and had seen changes in her mood and abilities. (AR at 176-83). Plaintiff spent most of the day sleeping. (AR at 176-77.) She bathed infrequently and needed reminders to clean her face and brush her teeth. (AR at 178.) She needed encouragement to clean laundry, wash dishes, and pick up prescriptions. (AR at 178.)

Ms. Brunette testified that Plaintiff could not stand very long, cried a lot, and thought her son was "out to get her." (AR at 176-77.) Plaintiff had trouble understanding, concentrating, completing tasks, and talking. (AR at 181.) Plaintiff could sustain attention 5 to 10 minutes at a time. (AR at 181.) Ms. Brunette reported that Plaintiff was in pain all of the time, her leg sometimes gave out, she was depressed and had trouble telling fantasy from reality when it came to dealing with her family. (AR at 183.)

E. Medical History

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. (AR at 172-514.) The medical evidence will be referenced below to the extent it ...

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