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Joanne M. v. Michael Astrue

May 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Caputo)

(Complaint Filed 1/11/11)



The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Joanne M. Creelman's claim for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.

On July 2, 2008, Creelman filed protectively*fn1 an application for disability insurance benefits and an application for supplemental security income benefits. Tr. 13, 56-64, 73 and 121.*fn2 The applications were initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination*fn3 on April 9, 2009. Tr. 13, 36 and 46-51. On May 13, 2009, Creelman

requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Tr. 44-45. After about 11 months had passed, a hearing was held on April 16, 2010. Tr. 357-398. On May 24, 2010, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Creelman's applications. Tr. 13-23. On June 28, 2010, Creelman filed a request for review with the Appeals Council and on November 15, 2010, the Appeals Council concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Creelman's request. Tr. 5-9. Thus, the administrative law judge's decision stood as the final decision of the Commissioner.

Creelman then filed a complaint in this court on January 11, 2011. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and the appeal*fn4 became ripe for disposition on August 25, 2011, when Creelman elected not to file a reply brief.

Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured," that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the "date last insured." It is undisputed that Creelman meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2012. Tr. 13, 15 and 64.

Supplemental security income is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not social security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind or other disabled individuals who have little or no income.

Creelman, who was born in the United States on June 17, 1968, graduated from high school and can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions. Tr. 54, 56, 64, 105, 108 and 367. During Creelman's elementary and secondary schooling, she attended regular education classes. Tr. 115. After graduating from high school, Creelman completed 1 year of college courses. Id.

Creelman has a lengthy history of work and earnings and held several jobs which can be considered past relevant employment.*fn5 Creelman's past relevant work involved (1) semiskilled, sedentary work*fn6 as a receptionist, (2) semiskilled, medium factory work as a machine operator (slitting electronic film) and packaging the film, and (3) skilled, light work as a photographer (primarily weddings). Tr. 22, 110, 125-135, 368 and 388-391. Creelman testified at the administrative hearing held on April 16, 2010, that she quit working as a photographer in October, 2009. Tr. 368.

Records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Creelman had earnings in the years 1984 through 2008. Tr. 65. The administrative record does not contain an indication of Creelman's earnings during 2009. In 2008 her earnings were $8616.00. Id. From 1994 through 2008, Creelman's annual earnings ranged from a low in 2003 of $161.00 to a high in 2000 of $40,870.95. Id. Creelman's total earnings from 1984 through 2008 were $275,686.68. Id.

Creelman alleges that she became disabled on January 1, 2008, because of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with facet arthropathy,*fn7 bilateral plantar calcaneous spurs,*fn8 asthma by history, arthritis, high blood pressure, status post gallbladder surgery, gastroesophageal reflux disease, neck pain, back pain, left hip pain, leg pain, morbid obesity, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression. Tr. 8, 46, 56, 109 and 362; Doc. 11, Plaintiff's Brief, p. 1. Creelman contends she is disabled as a result of pain, her inability to walk and depression.*fn9 Tr. 372-373.

As mentioned earlier, Creelman worked as a photographer through October, 2009, about 20 months past her alleged disability onset date. During that time she made contracts; met with clients; edited and developed photographs; produced photo albums; attended two to three bridal shows each year; performed the bookkeeping and marketing; and handled all management decisions. 117-118 and 369-371. For each wedding, Creelman spent almost six hours on her feet and 14 to 16 hours taking and producing photos. Tr. 117 and 368-369. Her earnings of $8616.00 in 2008 ...

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