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Cephas v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 26, 2017

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          Cheryl Ann Cephas, Dover, Delaware; Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel Social Security Administration, and Melissa K. Curry, Assistant Regional Counsel, Office of the General Counsel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware; Heather Benderson, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Defendant.


          ANDREWS, U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff, Cheryl Ann Cephas, who appears pro se, appeals the decision of Defendant Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying her applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II, and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI, of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f. Jurisdiction exists pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Cephas and the Commissioner. (D.I. 11, 15). Briefing is complete.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Cephas protectively applied for disability insurance benefits on November 22, 2011, alleging disability as of June 1, 2011. (D.I. 8-5 at 2-15; D.I. 8-6 at 15). She amended the onset date to June 13, 2012. (D.I. 8-5 at 33) Cephas' application was initially denied on March 26, 2012, and upon reconsideration on December 11, 2012. (D.I. 8-3 at 3-65). An administrative hearing was held on March 25, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge. (D.I. 8-2 at 30-77). Testimony was provided by Cephas and a vocational expert. The ALJ issued a decision on May 8, 2014, finding that Cephas was not disabled. (Id. at 13-29). She sought review by the Appeals Council, and her request was denied on October 1, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (D.I. 8-2 at 4-7). On December 4, 2015, Cephas filed the current action for review of the final decision. (D.I. 2).

         B. Plaintiffs Testimony

         Cephas was 50 years old when she testified at the March 2014 hearing. (D.I. 8-2 at 36). She is 5'0" and weighs 189 pounds. (Id.). She completed the 11th grade and has previous work experience as a hotel housekeeper and as a floater at a food company. (Id. at 37, 38-42, 71). She does not have a driver's license, having lost it due to a DUI. (Id. at 36). Cephas lives with her parents. (Id. at 57). She has bipolar issues, reading issues, needs help with writing, and can perform simple math. (Id. at 37-38).

         Cephas' mother prepares her meals, but she can make a sandwich and use the microwave. (Id. at 63, 64). She tries to help with household chores, goes shopping with her mother, and tries to help putting items away. (Id. at 64-65). She is able to keep track of her money and pay her bills. (Id. at 65). She watches a lot of television and tries to read. (Id. at 67). Cephas does not socialize, but attends church, Bible study, and AA meetings. (Id. at 66, 67).

         Cephas has a thyroid condition that is controlled with medication. (Id. at 54). She also has diabetes that is controlled as long as she keeps her weight down. (Id.). In addition, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sleep apnea. (Id. at 68).

         Cephas testified that she stopped working in 2010 because she was going to have hand surgery, but the surgery was called off. (Id. at 42-43). She testified that she could not return to work because she was not cleared, so she was separated from employment. (Id. at 43). The record also indicates that she was laid off. (D.I. 8-6 at 15).

         Cephas is left-handed. (Id. at 49). She had surgery on both hands in 2012 and 2013, but still has trouble with them. (Id. at 44). She testified that the right hand is worse since the surgery, and her left hand did not improve after surgery and has "gotten worse." (Id. at 49-51). She also has mild arthritis of the left thumb for which she receives injections and wears a brace. (Id. at 51). She has numbness and tingling in both hands all the time, and they swell "a lot." (Id. at 53). Cephas uses her right hand to button and zip her clothing, uses her fingers to feed herself, holds grooming items the best she can, and does everything primarily with her right hand. (Id. at 51-52). She is able to get dressed. (Id. at 63).

         Cephas has fibromyalgia. (Id. at 44). She takes Lyrica for pain and joint swelling she described as "over her entire body;" in her nerves, muscles, joints, and arms. Cephas rated pain without the medication at "about a nine" and with medication, "she goes to sleep, " and when she wakes up, "it starts again." (Id. at 46). She also has neck pain and osteoarthritis in her back and was prescribed "some type of medication, " but it does not really help. (Id. at 47-48). She described the back and neck pain at nine. (Id. at 49). Cephas testified upon her physician's recommendation, she uses a cane for standing still and walking because her knees and body hurt, she feels like she cannot use her feet, and some days she cannot walk. (Id. at 49, 50, 69). Cephas testified that she cannot walk more than 20 minutes, cannot do too much standing, can sit anywhere from one-half hour to "a couple of hours, " can lift a gallon of milk with her right hand, but hardly anything with her left hand, can bend at times, and might be able to kneel. (Id. at 62-63, 69, 70).

         Cephas is bipolar, is on medication, and receives treatment. (Id. at 54). She has also been treated for depression, but she feels "a lot better." (Id. at 55-56). Cephas takes Cymbalta, Trazodone, and Abilify for her mental condition. (Id. at 56). Cephas testified that she has difficulty sleeping, but goes back to sleep when she takes medication. (Id. at 58). Her memory is poor. (Id.). She gets angry with her family, she has mood swings, racing thoughts, paranoid thoughts, trust issues, does not like going to places with crowds, and has panic or anxiety attacks. (Id. at 59, 61).

         C. Plaintiffs Medical History, Condition, and Treatment

         1. Medical

         Medical records indicate that Cephas was diagnosed with diabetes on August 2, 2010 and underwent medical nutritional therapy to control it. (D.I. 8-7 at 13-24). She has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is managed with medication, and she uses a CPAP machine.[1] (D.I. 8-8 at 47, D.I. 8-9 at 21, 65-82).

         Cephas, who was employed at the time, was seen in 2010 and 2011 by Eric T. Schwartz, M.D., for evaluation and treatment of bilateral hand pain. When she was seen by Dr. Schwartz on February 22, 2011, for re-evaluation of bilateral hand pain, greater in the left hand, he recommended light duty with limitations. (D.I. 8-7 at 32-33). Cephas was "very unhappy about this" and felt that he should "completely disable her." (Id.). Dr. Schwartz was "uncomfortable" proceeding with surgery and recommended "follow through with pain management and a second orthopedic opinion." (Id.)

         On March 26, 2012, State agency consultant Michael H. Borek, D.O., opined that Cephas appeared capable of light duty, "frequent by non-continuous." (D.I. 8-3 at 7). He considered Cephas' complaints of bilateral hand pain and diagnoses of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, "moderate by EMG, " and bilateral upper extremity neuralgia. (Id.). Dr. Borek recommended that Cephas have limited environmental hazard and allergen restrictions due to her mild COPD and noted that she has handling and fingering limitations due to bilateral carpal tunnel. (Id.).

         Cephas was treated by Robert J. Varipapa, M.D., for her hand conditions. (D.I. 10-40, 47-76). Physical therapy was ordered, which she attended from July 2, 2012 to October 3, 2012. (Id. at 77-92). Cephas underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in October 2012 and left carpal tunnel release in July 2013. (D.I. 8-9 at 29, 33-40). She was ...

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