United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Amanda Petit Niccum seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits under the Social Security Act. For the following reasons, the Court affirms the decision of the Administrative Law Judge.
A. Procedural Background
Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits in 2011, alleging disability beginning on April 29, 2011. (R. at 15.) Her claim was denied initially, (R. at 84-85) as well as upon reconsideration October 11, 2011. (R. at 86-87.) Plaintiff requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 123-131.) On September 14, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not been disabled as defined in the Social Security Act from her alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 13-USDC 23.) The ALJ's opinion became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 11, 2013. (R. at 1-4.)
B. Factual Background
(1) Plaintiff's Background and Testimony
Plaintiff was born in 1975. (R. at 86.) Her highest level of education is the ninth grade. (R. at 35.) Plaintiff's alleged onset date of April 29, 2011. (R. at 39). Since April 2012, she has worked two days a week a Dollar General. (R. at 45.) Plaintiff testified that she can only work two days a week because after that she is in so much pain it takes her two days to recover. (R. at 46). Due to pain, she testified, she takes three or four 10-15 minute unscheduled breaks while at work.
She received unemployment benefits in 2011 after working the customer service desk at Wal-Mart for several months, though she needed help filling out the paperwork to obtain benefits. (R. at 39-40.) While working at Wal-Mart, Plaintiff also worked as a cashier at Taco Bell. (R. at 59.) Plaintiff was fired from Wal-Mart because she was on medical leave. (R. at 44.) In 2006, Plaintiff worked at an automotive parts manufacturing company. (R. at 42.) She lifted no more than 7 pounds at work. (R. at 43.)
Plaintiff claimed her disability began April 29, 2011, when she began her medical leave from Wal-Mart to have a bone tumor removed from her right index finger. (R. at 44.) Plaintiff also suffered from pain in her back and legs. (R. at 45.) Plaintiff testified that she suffers from fibromyalgia, neuropathy in her legs and feet, degenerative disc disease in her neck, osteoporosis, diabetes, and a learning disability. (R. at 47.) She said she cannot comprehend what she reads, but could understand a grocery list. (R. 37.) Plaintiff usually goes to a free clinic once a month for treatment of her fibromyalgia and osteoporosis. (R. at 48.) Plaintiff testified that she is currently taking Cymbalta, naproxen, Posamax, Levemir, estrogen, and vitamin B-12 for her ailments. (R. at 48-49.)
Plaintiff told the ALJ that these medications "mask the pain" in her back and legs. (R. at 49.) She said her pain is a 10 out of 10 when she is at work, but "not too bad" when she can put her feet up or lay down. (R. at 50.) She said that her pain from neuropathy is usually an 8 out of 10, though it decreases when she lays down or takes a bath. (R. at 51.) She further testified that because of her degenerative disc disease, she is limited to turning her back either way. (R. at 52.) Plaintiff usually turns her whole body at work, but can turn her head well enough to safely operate a car. (R. at 53.) She rated her neck pain at a 7 out of 10. ( Id. ) Her neck pain increases when she's at work, but gets better when she has pillows for it. (R. at 53-54.)
Plaintiff testified that her health problems affect her ability to pick up objects. (R. at 54.) She said that at work she tries not to lift bags of dog food or cat litter, which can weigh up to 50 pounds. ( Id. ) She can barely pick up a gallon of milk. (R. at 55.) She uses a hand-held scanner at work. ( Id. ) However, Plaintiff has not had any recent medical treatment for her hands or back. (R. at 55-56.)
Plaintiff further testified that she is able to bathe and dress herself. (R. at 60.) Through August 2011 she would visit the amusement park at Indiana Beach monthly, though she would have to sit down quite a bit. ( Id. ) Plaintiff's son does the cooking, cleaning, dishes, and laundry. (R. at 61, 63.) Plaintiff mostly sits in her recliner all day. (R. at 61.) Plaintiff assists in home schooling her son. (R. at 62.)
(2) Testimony of Plaintiff's Son
Plaintiff's son, Douglas Petit, testified that his mother lies down for hours at a time with her legs raised. (R. at 69.) He said that she can barely move when she comes home from work and that her pain has been getting progressively worse in the past year. (R. at 70.) He said that Plaintiff home schools ...