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Carpenter v. Astrue

June 18, 2010

MELINA LAVONNE CARPENTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Melina Lavonne Carpenter ("plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("the Commissioner") final decision finding that she was not entitled to Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The plaintiff claims she is disabled due to vision problems, fatigue, weakness, and headaches secondary to diabetes mellitus, as well as obesity and inflammation of the left knee. The Commissioner found that the plaintiff was not disabled because the plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a Red Cross blood donor recruiter, as well as other substantial gainful activity that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On August 14, 2009, both the plaintiff and the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings. On October 8, 2009, the Commissioner filed a memorandum in response to the plaintiff's motion and in further support of his own motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated, the Commissioner's motion for motion on the pleadings is granted and petitioner's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On July 24, 2006, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits and SSI claiming that she has been unable to work as of November 6, 2005. The plaintiff's application was denied. The plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which took place on March 6, 2007 before ALJ Marilyn Zahm. The plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. In a decision dated December 20, 2007, ALJ Zahm found that the plaintiff was not disabled because her residual functional capacity (RFC) was consistent with her past relevant work, as well as other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on December 19, 2008, and this action followed.

The plaintiff claims she is disabled due to vision problems, fatigue, weakness, and headaches secondary to diabetes mellitus. (Tr. 120). The plaintiff was 35 years old at the time of her hearing and weighed 290 pounds. (Tr. 36-37). She completed high school and two years of college, has training as a certified nursing assistant, and past work experience as a nursing assistant, patient care attendant in a hospital, home health aide, residential rehabilitation specialist for a disability agency, youth/family development specialist at a group home for children, day program specialist for a social service agency, and a Red Cross blood donor recruiter. (Tr. 38; 100-104; 107; 122; 126). The plaintiff last worked on November 7, 2005, when she passed out from high blood sugar levels. (Tr. 38-40; 108-09; 121). She testified her doctor has not released her for work since that time because her blood sugar is still not under control and her vision had worsened. (Tr. 38).

The plaintiff's daily activities involved helping her 12 year old son get ready for school, getting herself dressed, and performing light housework. (Tr. 42; 129). The plaintiff was able to do the dishes, sweep and mop, vacuum, wash laundry, and shop. (Tr. 42-43; 131; 132). She had no problems with personal care. (Tr. 130).

The plaintiff testified that due to her vision, she could no longer be an aide to the disabled because that job required driving and administering medication. (Tr. 47). She testified she had been experiencing migraine headaches on and off for approximately one year, and felt fatigued from high blood sugar. (Tr. 47-48; 53). She stated she needs to lie down for three to four hours when her blood sugar spikes, and that she believed she could not get through an eight-hour day without a spike or drop in blood sugar, or without having to lie down. (Tr. 53-54).

On November 1, 2005, the plaintiff was admitted to Sisters of Charity hospital with complaints of headache, dizziness, blurry vision, weakness, polyuria, and polydipsia. (Tr. 171). She was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, and was discharged in stable condition after being given insulin to lower her blood sugar. (Tr. 171-72). On November 7, 2005, physician's assistant (PA) Pamela Burton recommended that the plaintiff remain "out of work until further notice" due to her uncontrolled diabetes type II. (Tr. 311). The plaintiff continued to complain of blurred vision, and on January 17, 2006, PA Burton stated that the plaintiff should continue off work. (Tr. 295). An ophthalmology exam on May 2, 2006, found no retinopathy, but she was diagnosed with bilateral cataracts, which together with her uncontrolled diabetes, was causing vision problems. (Tr. 244; 273).

The plaintiff was examined by consultative examiner Dr. Samuel Balderman on October 4, 2006. She weighed 300 pounds and complained of headaches and low back pain. (Tr. 197-98). The examination revealed the plaintiff had normal gait and stance, could walk on heels and toes without difficulty, could squat 30% of full, had 20/70 visual acuity in the right eye, and 20/50 in the left eye. (Tr. 198). Dr. Balderman diagnosed obesity, diabetes, history of headaches, and inflammation of the left knee. (Tr. 199). He assessed a moderate limitation in prolonged walking, standing, kneeling, and climbing due to the plaintiff's obesity and effusion in the left knee. (Tr. 199-200).

Dr. Bucilli, an ophthalmologist, examined the plaintiff in May 2006, and summarized his assessment of the plaintiff's impairments in a medical source statement dated February 4, 2007 (Tr. 239-242). Dr. Bucilli had treated the plaintiff once in May 2006, and noted that the plaintiff did not follow up in three months as recommended, and had not followed up since then. (Tr. 239). Dr. Bucilli opined that the plaintiff's capacity for lifting, carrying, standing, walking, sitting, and pushing and pulling was unimpaired by the plaintiff's condition. (Tr. 239-240). Dr. Bucilli noted her visual acuity at that time was 20/40 in both eyes and that her limited visual acuity was secondary to cataracts and poorly controlled blood sugar. (Tr. 241).

On March 20, 2007, the plaintiff saw ophthalmologist Dr. David Montesanti, who diagnosed her with cataracts and type II diabetes mellitus without retinopathy. (Tr. 343). The plaintiff's corrected visual acuity at that time was 20/150 on the right and 20/100 on the left. (Tr. 343). The plaintiff subsequently underwent surgery for her bilateral cataracts leaving her with a corrected visual acuity of 20/40 in both eyes. (Tr. 338; 341-42).

The ALJ found that the plaintiff has severe impairments: type II diabetes mellitus, obesity, bilateral cataracts, status post extraction and lens implantation, and inflammation of the knee. (Tr. 16). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work*fn1 , and found that she was capable of performing her past relevant work as a Red Cross blood donor recruiter. (Tr. 26). The ALJ also found, given the plaintiff's age, education, and RFC for no more than sedentary work, that she could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr 27-28).

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope ...


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