United States District Court, D. Delaware
Ann Cephas, Dover, Delaware; Pro Se Plaintiff.
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
ANDREWS, U.S. District Judge
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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,
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
Plaintiffs Medical History, Condition, and Treatment
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. (D.I. 8-8 at 47,
D.I. 8-9 at 21, 65-82).
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."
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.).
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