United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION & ORDER
CHRISTOPHER A. NUECHTERLEIN, Magistrate Judge.
On January 28, 2013, Plaintiff, Laura L. Hawkins ("Hawkins"), filed her complaint with this Court seeking judicial review of the decision of Defendant, Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). On June 21, 2013, Hawkins filed her opening brief. On September 27, 2013, the Commissioner filed a memorandum in support of the Commissioner's decision. On October 3, 2013, Hawkins filed a reply brief. This Court may enter a ruling on this matter based on parties' consent, 28 U.S.C § 636(c), and 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision denying SSI benefits to Hawkins.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Procedural Background
On May 26, 2010, Hawkins filed an application SSI, alleging disability beginning on February 20, 2008. The claim was denied initially on July 30, 2010, and upon reconsideration on October 27, 2010. On timely request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on September 21, 2011. On October 4, 2011, the ALJ drafted a written decision denying Hawkins' claim for relief. The ALJ held that Hawkins was not disabled under Section 1614 (a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ found that Hawkins had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 26, 2010-the date of her SSI application-and that her degenerative lumbar disc disease, asthma, obesity, arthritis, and headaches constituted severe impairments pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). However, the ALJ also found that Hawkins does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ specifically found that Hawkins retained the capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.960(c), 416.962. Moreover, the ALJ determined that Hawkins' had the RFC to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and sit, stand, and walk 6 hours each day in an 8-hour workday. In addition, the ALJ found that Hawkins could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could only, on occasion, climb ramps, stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to cold and heat, wetness, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, hazards, machinery, and heights. In sum, the ALJ determined that given Hawkins' age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity ("RFC"), there are employment opportunities in the national economy that she can perform.
On December 10, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision making it the Commissioner's final decision. See Fast v. Barnhart, 397 F.3d 468, 470 (7th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Hawkins filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision on January 28, 2013.
Hawkins was born on April 15, 1960, and was forty-eight year old female at the alleged onset date of disability and fifty-one years old as of the date of the hearing. Hawkins has an eighth grade education and performed past work as a laborer and housekeeper.
1. Claimant's Hearing Testimony
At the hearing, Hawkins testified that she suffered from lower back pain, knee pain, and fibromyalgia, which prevented her from working and sustaining employment. Further, Hawkins testified that she was prone to severe headaches, occurring as frequently as two to three times a week and lasting as long as a couple hours. She explained that in the midst of these headaches, she has to take medication, such as Frova to treat her migraine symptoms, lie down, and relax. The headaches are brought on by stress, exposure to bright lights, and loud noises. She testified that the headaches caused her pain, which frequently reached a six on a ten-point scale.
Hawkins also testified that she injured her back roughly six years prior to the hearing date. Further, she indicated that she suffers from fibromyalgia with pain occurring in her neck and throughout her entire body. She testified that she has difficulty lifting, carrying, sitting, standing, walking, and with the majority of routine, daily activities. She claims that her back and neck pain reaches a level eight out of ten. Additionally, she maintains that she can only carry out certain daily activities, including watching television, washing dishes, and doing laundry. In regard to mobility, she contends that she is only able to bend on her knees for a short period of time and can only squat while holding on to something. She claims she is only able to walk at a slow pace and needs to use chair arms to maintain her balance.
2. Medical Evidence Regarding Headaches and Migraines
Dr. Walter Miller, M.D., appeared as an impartial medical expert at the hearing and testified that because of the frequency of Hawkins headaches it would be difficult to pinpoint the cause. In October 2009, Hawkins reported blurry vision and headaches and received a new prescription for glasses. Dr. Euvman, Hawkins' ophthalmologist, opined that Hawkins' vision problems were a key contributor to her headaches. In February 2010, Hawkins complained that the reported headaches had created episodes of phonophobia, photophobia, and nausea. Hawkins stated, by way of a medical questionnaire, that her headaches were caused by stress. However, by May 2010, Hawkins reported that her migraines had stopped, that she very seldom got ...