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Hodges v. Colvin

United States District Court, Northern District of Iowa, Eastern Division

November 5, 2014

CATHERINE G. HODGES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Catherine G Hodges, Plaintiff: Hugh M Field, LEAD ATTORNEY, Beecher, Field, Walker, Morris, Hoffman & Johnson, PC, Waterloo, IA; Thomas A Krause, LEAD ATTORNEY, Des Moines, IA.

For Commissioner of Social Security, agent of Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant: Hasan Aijaz, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel - Region VI - Dallas, Dallas, TX; Stephanie Johnson Wright, U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, IA.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

JON STUART SCOLES, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

III. FACTS

A. Hodges' Education and Employment Background

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Hodges' Testimony

2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

C. Hodges' Medical History

IV. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

A. ALJ's Disability Determination

B. Objections Raised By Claimant

1. Dr. Jaoude's Opinions

2. Kieszkowski's Opinions

3. Fully and Fairly Developed Record

4. Credibility Determination

V. CONCLUSION

VI. ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 3) filed by Plaintiff Catherine G. Hodges on January 9, 2014, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Title XVI supplemental security income (" SSI") benefits.[1] Hodges asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner (" Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide her SSI benefits. In the alternative, Hodges requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.

II. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), the Commissioner's final determination after an administrative hearing not to award SSI benefits is subject to judicial review to the same extent as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides the Court with the power to: " [E]nter . . . a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner . . . with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). " The findings of the Commissioner. . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . ." Id.

The Court will " affirm the Commissioner's decision if supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is defined as " 'less than a preponderance but . . . enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.'" Id. (quoting Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010)); see also Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1063 (8th Cir. 2010) (" Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a decision but is less than a preponderance.").

In determining whether the ALJ's decision meets this standard, the Court considers " all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the evidence." Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Court not only considers the evidence which supports the ALJ's decision, but also the evidence that detracts from his or her decision. Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1091 (8th Cir. 2012); see also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007) (Review of an ALJ's decision extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; [the court must also] consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision."). In Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained this standard as follows:

This standard is 'something less than the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.'

Id. (quoting Turley v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 524, 528 (8th Cir. 1991), in turn quoting Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988)). In Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549 (8th Cir. 2011), the Eighth Circuit further explained that a court " 'will not disturb the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision falls within the available 'zone of choice.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Bradley v. Astrue, 528 F.3d 1113, 1115 (8th Cir. 2008)). " 'An ALJ's decision is not outside that zone of choice simply because [a court] might have reached a different conclusion had [the court] been the initial finder of fact.'" Id. Therefore, " even if inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, the agency's decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Guilliams, 393 F.3d at 801 (citing Chamberlain v. Shalala, 47 F.3d 1489, 1493 (8th Cir. 1995)); see also Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010) (" If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, we will not reverse the decision merely because substantial evidence would have also supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided differently."); Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir. 2009) (" 'If there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion, we may not reverse even though there may also be substantial evidence to support the opposite conclusion.' Clay v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2005).").

III. FACTS

A. Hodges' Education and Employment Background

Hodges was born in 1970. She completed the eleventh grade. At the administrative hearing, Hodges testified that she did not take any special education courses in high school, and has no difficulties with reading and writing. In the past, she held jobs as a companion, nurse aide, residential aide, and sales clerk.

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Hodges' Testimony

At the administrative hearing, Hodges' attorney questioned Hodges about her impairments. At the time of the hearing, Hodges testified that she was 5 feet 3 inches and weighed 327 pounds. She stated that her usual weight was 230 to 240 pounds, but in the last year she had gained almost 90 pounds. She attributed her weight gain to the " fact that I am in so much pain all the time that I cannot move around like I used to. . . . It hurts when I walk. I can only walk about maybe 10 minutes, even when I'm doing grocery shopping, and it gets to the point to where I have to sit down." [2] With regard to household activities, Hodges testified that " I try to cook. I can usually only stand about 10 minutes when I do that. Then I have to sit down just so that I can finish it, because my body is in so much pain." [3] She stated that she has pain in her hips, knees, feet, back, and hands. She uses a cane to help her walk and balance.

According to Hodges, she also needs help from her husband with most activities of daily living:

The help that I need is when I take a shower, my husband has to help me get in and out, because I can only go about five, 10 minutes. It hurts to stand when I wash my body. I cannot bend when I do it because I'm in so much pain. I have to sit right down when I am done showering. I need help when I try to do cooking because my body is in so much pain from standing up and doing it. I constantly have to move around on a couch or in a bed when I'm sitting or laying down because I cannot get comfortable. I have to put my legs up so that they don't swell too much. I need help by my husband getting up off the couch, and I usually need help if there's no armrests on a chair or on a couch near me to be able to sit down. When I do shopping, my husband helps me with that. And there's only times that I can only walk about 10 minutes and then I have to sit down on a bench for the rest of the time while my husband finishes.

(Administrative Record at 37-38.) Hodges' attorney also questioned Hodges about her functional abilities:

Q: Okay. And you've talked a little bit about this, but how long can you stand?
A: 10 minutes.
Q: And what happens after that?
A: After that, my body is in so much pain from standing for 10 minutes that I have to sit down.
Q: And how long do you have to sit?
A: At least 15 to 20 minutes.
Q: And in terms of sitting, how long can you sit at one time before you start to have pain and swelling?
A: Usually about 20 minutes.
Q: And what happens then after 20 minutes?
A: My body is -- my back is constantly hurting. My hip. And I have to generally always move around just to be able to get comfortable so that it stops, or I have to stand for a little bit.
Q: Do you ever have to lie down or --
A: No.
Q: And how far can you walk?
A: I would say probably about 25 to 50 feet before I start to hurt and have to sit down.
Q: And how long do you have to sit after you ...

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