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Wade v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 10, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


PHILIP P. SIMON, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Malissa Wade appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). An administrative law judge found that Wade was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. As explained in detail below, I find that the ALJ improperly ignored evidence in the record regarding the severity of Wade's allergies and will therefore remand this matter to the ALJ to fully and properly develop the administrative record on that issue.


Those looking for a detailed discussion of Wade's medical records are directed to the extensive summaries in the ALJ's decision (R. 10-20) and in Wade's opening brief. (DE 10 at 1-15). Rather than simply reiterating those summaries, I will give a brief overview of Wade's history of health issues and touch on those issues that are most important to this decision.

Wade is a divorced mother of three in her mid-thirties. She has a rather thin resume. Wade worked a few clerical jobs in the 1990's while attending school, including spells as a pharmacy technician and gas station clerk. (R. 169). But, she left the workforce around 2000 to raise her children. (R. 34). In May 2009, Wade began working again, starting a job as a temporary clerk at an office. (R. 33). Unfortunately, she only lasted five weeks. Wade's allergies flared up dramatically, culminating in two emergency room visits in two weeks. (R. 518). After the second visit, her allergist, Dr. James Harris, ordered her to stop working. Id. She has not worked since.

Wade has asthma and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but her main problem is allergies. Wade has an astonishing range of food, drug, and environmental allergies. These include common ones like latex, pollen, cats, dairy, and wheat. (R. 633-634). But she also has not-so common ones like allergies to sunlight, sawdust, ozone, green beans, and caffeine. Id. The complete list of Wade's allergies is several pages long. (R. 633-635). The environmental allergies are particularly important. That's because Wade is allergic to common substances, like dust, perfume, deodorant, and hair spray that she could expect to encounter in an average workplace. Id.

Wade's allergies are not life-threatening, but they are severe enough to significantly impact her daily life. She suffers from chronic congestion and eye inflammation. (R. 242-245, 503). And her allergies frequently cause severe headaches, joint pain, swelling, respiratory problems, dizziness, and hives. (R. 242, 429, 518, 578-582). As a result, Wade has had to restrict her activities. She rarely leaves the house, except for the occasional trip to the grocery store. (R. 40-42). She can never go to restaurants and only eats four or five specific foods. (R. 51-52). Her children have to do many of the chores around the house. And Wade has to go outside when they dust or do intensive cleaning. (R. 39, 54-55).

To help control her symptoms, Wade takes the steroid Celestone. (R. 242, 245, 479, 510, 520). This usually takes the form of a monthly injection, but, when her allergies flare up, she has had to inject herself as much as once a week. (R. 479, 577, 581). Her allergist, Dr. Harris, has expressed concern about the long-term effect of chronic steroid use, but, so far, has not been able to find another effective treatment. (R. 244).

Wade applied for SSI on August 8, 2011, alleging an onset date of January 1, 1995. The claim was denied initially on October 20, 2011, and then again upon reconsideration on January 12, 2012. Subsequently, Wade filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on January 16, 2013. At the hearing Wade, through her attorney, amended her alleged onset date of disability to August 8, 2011. Wade testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. (R. 26-68.)

The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (R. 10-20). At Step One, the ALJ found that Wade met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 8, 2011, the amended alleged onset date. At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Wade had severe impairments, namely asthma, chronic allergies, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The ALJ also found Wade's shingles and foot pain to be non-severe impairments.

At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Wade does not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling one of the listed impairments. At Step Four, the ALJ found that Wade had the capacity for medium work, but with some limitations. Most importantly, the ALJ found Wade cannot tolerate exposure to extreme temperatures, environmental irritants or workplace hazards.

At Step Five, the ALJ found that Wade could not perform any past relevant work but that there was a sufficiently significant number of jobs in the national economy that she could perform.

The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Wade timely sought review ...

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