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Carter v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 30, 2017

TAMAR CARTER, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Tamar Carter (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for Remand [Docket #20] is GRANTED, remanding the case to the administrative level for further administrative proceedings. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket #19] is DENIED.


         On July 19, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of January 1, 2013 (Tr. 148-149, 150-155). After the initial denial of her claim, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held on November 25, 2014 in Livonia, Michigan (Tr. 19, 35). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mary Connolly presided. Plaintiff, represented by attorney Lindsey Fish, testified (Tr. 38-57), as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Han Tabsic (Tr. 57-59). On January 27, 2015, ALJ Connolly found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 19-29). On February 1, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff filed the present action on March 28, 2016.


         Plaintiff, born August 8, 1969, was 45 at the time of the administrative decision (Tr. 29, 148). She attended special education classes during high school before completing 12thgrade (Tr. 211). Her application for benefits states that she worked previously as a clothes sorter at a thrift store, home care giver, housekeeper (hotel), production worker, and as a temporary worker (Tr. 211). She alleges disability as a result of schizophrenia, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (“CTS”), and arthritis (Tr. 210).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff offered the following testimony:

         She lived in Taylor, Michigan with her sister (Tr. 38, 44). From 2001 to 2003, she worked for a packaging company in the receiving department inspecting parts (Tr. 38-39). The work was performed in the standing position and required “very light” lifting (Tr. 39). She had not worked since 2011 due to her physical and mental problems (Tr. 39). She was unable to sit or stand for long periods due to arthritis of the knees, CTS, and tendinitis (Tr. 40). She also had back and left shoulder problems (Tr. 40). She had not undergone surgery for those conditions (Tr. 40). She received weekly mental health treatment and a monthly psychiatric review since a seven-day hospitalization in May, 2014 (Tr. 41-42). She currently took Prozac and Seroquel (Tr. 43). Her psychological improvement since beginning treatment had been slowed by the death of her mother (Tr. 43). She “heard voices” but did not know whether they were her “inner thoughts” or audio hallucinations (Tr. 44).

         Due to arthritis, Plaintiff required a left knee replacement (Tr. 44). She experienced the left knee symptoms of pain, numbness, swelling, tingling, and multiple falls (Tr. 44). She experienced a lesser degree of right knee pain (Tr. 45). Despite nighttime knee pain, she was able to sleep well due to the use of Seroquel (Tr. 45). She also experienced shortness of breath and pain upon climbing stairs or walking long distances (Tr. 45). She was unable to walk for more than one block or sit or stand for even 30 minutes (Tr. 46-47). She experienced left shoulder pain since tearing the rotator cuff in 2011 (Tr. 47). She also underwent a heart catherterization (Tr. 48). She drank beer or wine and smoked marijuana on a regular basis (Tr. 50-51). She had been advised that her psychotropic medication would work better if she stopped smoking marijuana (Tr. 51). She was ordered to stop drinking during a 1999-2000 incarceration (Tr. 51). In 2013, she was jailed for 20 hours on suspicion of assaulting her step-daughter but was never charged (Tr. 52). Her driver's license was suspended in 2003 after she failed to pay traffic tickets (Tr. 52).

         Plaintiff used a brace on her right hand for CTS (diagnosed in 2003) but experienced the condition in both hands (Tr. 54). She dropped items on a regular basis due to tingling and numbness (Tr. 55). She experienced difficulty sweeping but was able to wash dishes (Tr. 56). She also experienced leg and ankle swelling and maintaining focus (Tr. 55). She avoided communicating with others in retail situations (Tr. 56). She had “bad days” three or four days a week at which time she did not want to get out of bed (Tr. 56). She did not “get along well with others” (Tr. 57).

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Records Related to Plaintiff's Treatment[1]

         A May, 2011 MRI showed a torn left meniscus with osteoarthritis changes (Tr. 281, 306). An MRI of the lumbar spine showed forminal narrowing at ¶ 5-S1 with “very minimal” effect on the exiting nerve roots (Tr. 282, 305). February, 2012 nerve conduction studies showed severe bilateral CTS and left-sided mild ulnar sensory neuropathy (Tr. 309, 381). The same month, treating notes by Priti Bhardwaj, M.D. state that Plaintiff took Vicodin for shoulder pain (Tr. 318). The following month, an MRI of the left shoulder showed moderate ...

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