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Hannigan Reilly v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 17, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant



         Jennifer Lynn Hannigan Reilly (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of her motion for summary judgment, [1] the Commissioner has responded to it, and Plaintiff has filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed.


         On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging disability since November 29, 2013, because of physical and mental health problems. R. 31. Her claim was denied, initially, therefore, Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. On December 2, 2016, Plaintiff appeared before Nadine Overton, Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), for an administrative hearing; Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, and vocational expert Jeff Barrett (“the VE”), testified at the hearing. R. 73-112. On February 24, 2017, the ALJ, using the sequential evaluation process for disability, [3] issued a decision finding Plaintiff disabled, beginning June 1, 2015. R. 31-46. That starting date entitled Plaintiff to SSI benefits, but not DIB. Id. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, on October 17, 2018, making the ALJ's findings the final determination of the Commissioner. R. 1-4. Now, Plaintiff seeks judicial review in this court; the parties have consented to the undersigned's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


         A. Personal History

         Plaintiff, born on January 9, 1961, R. 80, was 46 years old when the ALJ rendered her decision. She completed three years of college, R. 82, and has past relevant work as a collection clerk and claim adjuster. R. 108. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was separated from her second husband and lived with her three daughters, ages 13, 7 and 3. R. 80-81.

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified about her impairments at the December 2, 2016 administrative hearing. She focused her disability claim on intractable migraines, side-effects from her medication, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and anxiety. R. 85-106. Plaintiff's migraines can occur at any time of the day, sometimes commencing while she is asleep. R. 85, 97. She reported experiencing three to four migraine headaches each week that typically last from four to five hours to twenty-four hours. R. 95. Plaintiff's migraines affect her vision, sometimes causing temporary blindness in both eyes. R. 96.

         One of Plaintiff's medications disrupts her sleep patterns; sometimes, she sleeps too long and cannot awaken in the morning; other times, Plaintiff is unable to fall asleep at night, because she slept too much during the day. R. 87. Another medication affects her short-term memory, causes tingling in her hands, the dropping of objects, face tingling under her eyes, and eye pain. R. 86-87. A third medication triggers dry mouth and constant thirst. R. 87.

         Plaintiff witnessed her father abuse her mother and attempt to kill her mother while they were still married and, again, after her mother left him. R.103-04. While in college, Plaintiff attempted suicide. R. 103. In 2009, while Plaintiff was pregnant with her first child, her first husband beat her, in an effort to cause a miscarriage. R. 104. Plaintiff married a second man who, after they separated, came to her home, in February 2016, and raped her. R. 89-90. The next month, Plaintiff obtained a restraining order. R. 90. Despite that, her second husband still calls her cell phone and hangs up as soon as she answers. R. 92. Plaintiff is in constant fear of encountering her second husband; she stopped attending church, because he knows the location and the time of Mass. R. 94.

         Plaintiff is unable to perform many household tasks. Her oldest daughter washes the family's clothing and vacuums the house; this child has done the laundry since she turned eleven years old. R. 88, 92. The oldest child also microwaves pre-prepared meals for the family, when her mother cannot. R. 89. Plaintiff grocery shops in bulk, to minimize the cost and the number of trips to the store. R. 89. Plaintiff is able to dress and groom herself; however, some days, she does not shower or remove clothing she wore the previous day. R. 87-88. Aproximately every two weeks, Plaintiff is too incapacitated to attend to her children and calls a friend to assist with their care. R. 88.

         C. Vocational Testimony

         The VE classified Plaintiff's past job as a collection clerk as semi-skilled[4] and sedentary;[5]her job as a claim adjuster was semi-skilled and light.[6] R. 108-09. The ALJ asked the VE to consider a person of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, who had no exertional limitations, but needed to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dust, odors, gases, or poorly ventilated areas; additionally, the person needed to avoid hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. R. 108. The VE responded that this person could perform both of Plaintiff's past jobs. Id. Next, the ALJ asked the VE to consider the same person, but who was limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive, concrete, tangible tasks. R. 109. The VE answered that this limitation would preclude both of Plaintiff's past jobs. Id. However, the person could perform the following, alternative jobs: (1) counter and rental clerk, a sedentary job (447, 000 positions in the national economy); (2) stock checker, a light job (88, 240 positions in the national economy); and (3) investigator, a light job (177, 210 positions in the national economy). R. 109-10. The VE further opined that, if the hypothetical individual was absent from work more that five times each month, she could not sustain any employment. R. 110-11.

         III. THE ...

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