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Burmester v. Berryhill

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 5, 2019

Bettie Burmester, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued December 4, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:15-cv-01393-WCG -William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

          Before Bauer, Kanne, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.


         Bettie Burmester applied for disability insurance benefits claiming she was unable to work due to physical impairments affecting her joints, chronic pain, and poor mental health. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her application. Burmester appeals the decision of the ALJ that held she was not disabled and the district court opinion affirming the ALJ's denial of benefits. For the following reasons, we agree with the district court and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 20, 2010, Burmester applied for disability benefits alleging a June 26, 2008, onset of her disability. She claimed her ability to work was limited by degenerative disc disease, pseudo-gout in her left knee, osteoarthritis in both knees and left thumb, a heart condition, and depression. The application was denied on May 11, 2011, and on October 3, 2011. Burmester requested a hearing.

         On December 10, 2012, ALJ Patrick Morrison conducted a hearing. Burmester testified that she lived in a townhouse with her husband, and had completed high school and one year of technical college. She worked as a hand packager for the manufacturing company Briggs & Stratton for many years. She was employed as a part-time attendant at the Bradley Center, an arena located in Milwaukee. Her job duties included checking the validity of tickets and directing event goers to their seats.

         Burmester amended the onset date of her disability to September 1, 2009. When asked to rank her impairments by severity, she listed back spasms, rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and feet, knee pain, and fibromyalgia as her most limiting conditions. The ALJ also noted that Burmester had chondromalacia (also known as "runner's knee"), gout, and right shoulder issues. Burmester testified that her hypertension was under control, that she gets about three migraine head- aches a year, and that she had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

         For her daily activities, Burmester testified that her husband helped her out of bed but she was otherwise independent in her own self care. Her husband did the cooking, cleaning, paid the bills, and went grocery shopping and a friend helped with cleaning once a week. Burmester was able to go to church once a week; out to dinner once a month; use the computer to check her email and social media accounts; and walk her dog half a block twice a day. Her treating physician prescribed the use of a cane.

         On January 17, 2013, in a written decision, the ALJ determined that Burmester was not disabled. Burmester successfully appealed that decision to the Appeals Council, and her case was remanded to the ALJ for further hearings.

         The second hearing was held on June 3, 2014. Burmester again amended her disability onset date to September 6, 2009. She testified that she suffered from degenerative disc and joint disease in her lumbar spine, right shoulder impingement syndrome, chondromalacia in the left patella, rheumatoid arthritis in her feet and hands, neck pain, gout, high blood pressure, trochanteric bursitis in her hips, and Type II diabetes. She took Percocet and morphine for pain management, and received Remicade infusions every six weeks to treat her rheumatoid arthritis. Burmester stated again that she had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and reported having panic attacks every three months.

         At the time of the hearing, she lived with her husband and adult son who cooked her meals and did the grocery shopping. She would do some cleaning, but her son or husband would finish it when she inevitably became too sore to continue. She reported attending church twice a month, and going out to eat once a month. She also let her dog outside and walked around the backyard with him for twenty minutes at a time.

         On July 16, 2014, the ALJ found that Burmester was not disabled; he concluded that "based upon the overall objective diagnostic imaging, physical examination, and mental status findings, the claimant's admitted high level of daily functioning contradicting her hearing testimony, as well as her multiple inconsistent statements (such as regarding drug use, short and long-term memory, and ability to concentrate), the undersigned finds that her allegations of disability are not ...

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