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Corbitt v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

July 8, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff, Shirley Corbitt, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 1382. In this judicial review, the court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on May 12, 2016, due to depression, anxiety, lymphedema, social anxiety, and melanoma. (ECF No. 11, pp. 16, 192, 210). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2007. (Id.). Her claim was denied initially on October 26, 2015, and upon reconsideration on January 14, 2016. (Id., pp. 16, 123-126, 135-37). An administrative hearing was held on April 21, 2017, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before the Hon. Clifford Shilling, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id., pp. 51-89). Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel, Michael Hamby, at the hearing. (Id.). Kola Brown, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (Id.).

         By written decision dated September 28, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff's malignant neoplasm of the skin, lymphedema, affective disorders, organic mental disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance addiction disorders to be severe, but that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments. (Id., pp. 18-20). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except as follows: The claimant can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and push and/or pull within the limits of lifting and carrying. She can stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables, and little judgment is required. Supervision is simple, direct, and concrete. The claimant needs a handheld device for prolonged ambulation. (Id., p. 20).

         With the assistance of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ then determined that while Plaintiff had no past relevant work, she could perform the requirements of the representative occupations of: Poultry Dresser (DOT No. 525.687-070), 10, 000 jobs in the national economy; Router (DOT No. 222.587-038), with 50, 000 jobs in the national economy; or, Merchandise Marker (DOT No. 209.587-034), with 200, 000 jobs in the national economy. (Id., p. 24-25). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not been disabled under the definition of the Act from May 12, 2016, through the date of his decision. (Id., p. 25).

         On June 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id., pp. 6-10). Plaintiff then filed this action on July 16, 2018. (ECF No. 1). This matter is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. (ECF Nos. 14, 15). The case is ready for decision.

         II. Relevant Evidence

         The undersigned has conducted a thorough review of the entire record in this case. The complete sets of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         At the administrative hearing held on April 21, 2017, Plaintiff testified that she made it to the ninth grade in school, and later earned a GED. (ECF No. 11, pp. 56). In addition to the impairments listed in her application, she also had to have a hysterectomy for a tumor the size of a softball, a complete thyroidectomy, and knee surgery which caused the lymphedema. (Id., p. 57). She experienced daily pain of about a seven out of ten in her thigh, knees, shoulders, and hands. (Id., pp. 57-58). She took hydrocodone for her pain on an as needed basis, which would be about three times daily. (Id.). The hydrocodone helped her pain but did not help the burning sensation, and there was nothing else that relieved her pain. (Id.). She used a cane six out of seven days if she left the house, and the cane had been prescribed by a doctor. (Id., pp. 59-60).

         Plaintiff testified she made F's and D's in school, that her difficulty learning was part of why she dropped out of school, and that it took a couple of times trying to complete her GED. (Id., p. 60). Her last work had been as a personal care aide. She said that job ended in November 2006 when she had some medical testing done and they started finding cancer in her body. (Id., pp. 62-63).

         Plaintiff had an oophorectomy previously in 2002, but they found a tumor the size of a softball which required a complete hysterectomy and the implantation of a bladder sleeve. (Id., p. 63). She was experiencing difficulties with the bladder sleeve and was in the process of getting a corrective surgery scheduled; she was experiencing daily incontinence. (Id., p. 64). Her doctors discovered she also had thyroid cancer, and in the course of performing a complete thyroidectomy damaged her parathyroid. (Id., p. 65). Plaintiff testified her lingering effects included vitamin D and calcium deficiencies, and her thyroid medication had to be closely managed or she would start losing weight, feeling sick, and losing her hair. (Id.).

         Plaintiff also had malignant melanoma on her right leg, which had required the removal of lymph nodes near her groin, and this caused her lymphedema. (Id., pp. 65-66). The lymphedema was constant in her right upper leg, but it would move down her leg and up into her arm and fingers. (Id.). The lymphedema was severe enough to spread into her fingers on average a couple times per month, and when she had flare-ups, she would have to stay in bed propped up, take hot baths to soak her leg, take her water pills, and wear prescription support hose. (Id., pp. 66-67, 68). Plaintiff had swelling in her leg and foot at least a couple days each week, but it was very variable and unpredictable, and it seemed to be worsened by sitting too long, standing too long, or riding in a vehicle. (Id., p. 67).

         Plaintiff described having arthritis in her left shoulder and arm, as well as pins in her left elbow, but that the arthritis on her right side was more painful. (Id., 68-69). She said her ability to use her left arm was limited, for example, she would struggle to pick up and pour a gallon of milk and would be shaky if she attempted to do so. (Id., p. 69).

         She also said she had a torn meniscus in her left knee, which was painful like her arthritis, and she was seeking treatment but had not yet had any injections or surgeries. (Id., pp. 71-72). Plaintiff testified that she also had chronic back pain, but she was focused on trying to improve her knee at that time. (Id., p. 73). Plaintiff reported difficulty walking and a history of falling at least once a month; she said she had fallen twice that month and got hurt each time. (Id., pp. 78-79).

         She claimed she could walk for only five to ten minutes before having to stop and catch her breath. (Id., p. 76). She reported going up stairs was very laborious, even when using her cane, so she avoided them. (Id.). Sitting down was also difficult due to her lymphedema and required her to elevate her leg, and she did not drive because it hurt her foot and leg. (Id., pp. 76- 77, 78). She was able to use a riding lawn mower to mow her lawn at times, but ...

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