United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
FINAL OPINION AND ORDER
JANET F. KING, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff in the above-styled case brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration which denied her disability claim. For the reasons set forth below, the court ORDERS that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.
I. Procedural History
Plaintiff Bennie Daniels filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance and supplemental security income on May 7, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of April 18, 2008. [Record ("R.") at 112-21]. After Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration [R. at 60-63], she requested an administrative hearing which was held on February 28, 2012 [R. at 35-59]. On April 20, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. [R. at 21-34]. On May 22, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. [R. at 1-6]. Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on July 22, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. [Doc. 3].
Plaintiff Bennie Daniels was born on September 13, 1951. On her alleged disability onset date of April 18, 2008, she was fifty-six years old, and she meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011. [R. at 26, 138]. Plaintiff based her applications for benefits on the following medical conditions: high blood pressure, gout, lymphodema, diabetes, arthritis, "degenerative disc", back injury and two back surgeries, kidney problems, thyroid, deep vein thrombosis ("dvt"), and sleep apnea. [R. at 24, 112, 116, 142]. Her past relevant work included twenty-five years in customer service work with a telephone company and work as a shipping clerk. [R. at 143, 151, 165]. Plaintiff speaks English, and she completed three years of college in March 2010 and has earned a bachelor's degree in business administration according to counsel at the hearing. [R. at 38, 141, 149]. Plaintiff performed data entry work from early 2010 through April 2011 when she testified that she was laid off because of her inability to type fast enough and keep up with her workload. [R. at 26, 47, 123-25]. But there have been continuous 12-month periods since her alleged onset date when she did not engage in substantial gainful activity. [R. at 26].
The ALJ found that Plaintiff has degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea and history of pacemaker implantation and that these are severe impairments. [R. at 26]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have a spinal disorder characterized by nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis or lumbar spinal stenosis as required by Medical Listing 1.04 and that the record does not demonstrate that Plaintiff's hypertension is associated with chronic heart failure or ischemic heart disease of sufficient severity to meet or equal the requirements of Medical Listings 4.02 and 4.04. [Id.].
The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work involving occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and occasional stooping and crawling, that Plaintiff can perform other postural activities frequently, and that Plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. [R. at 26-27]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a customer service representative and data entry clerk as actually and generally performed and that such work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's RFC. [R. at 29]. A vocational expert testified that this was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupation Titles. [R. at 58]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was, thus, not under a disability from her alleged onset date, April 18, 2008, through the date of the ALJ's decision on April 20, 2012. [R. at 29-30].
The ALJ's decision [R. at 24-34] states the relevant facts of this case as modified herein as follows:
The claimant testified that she cannot work due to pain. She reported headaches, sleep apnea and an irregular heartbeat. The claimant stated that her high blood pressure is not controlled. She described problems with her hands and an inability to type as in the past. She testified that she can lift five pounds, sit for thirty to forty minutes, and stand for ten minutes. She uses a cane which she testified is because her right leg swells and gives way. Her activities of daily living include reading, watching television, and preparing a salad if seated. And she testified that she goes to church occasionally. [R. at 28].
A sleep study in September 2009 showed moderate obstructive sleep apnea. But CPAP titration reduced or eliminated most of the claimant's respiratory events. (Exhibit 1E).
Medical records from Dr. Ronald Bookhart with Kaiser Permanente document treatment for the claimant's diabetes and hypertension. In March 2010 (Exhibit 3F), the claimant reported blood sugar levels between 95-140 in the morning but also that she was not taking her insulin sensitizing medication every day as prescribed. [R. at 232-33]. In February 2011 (Exhibit 7F), the claimant reported that she had been out of all medications for one month, and, on physical examination, her gait was balanced, she was fully upright, her sensation was normal in both feet, and her motor strength was preserved in all extremities. [R. at 339-42]. In June 2011(Exhibit 9F), Dr. Bookhart's records indicate that the claimant's diabetes was controlled, that she had no loss of sensation in her extremities and that she denied pain and numbness in her feet. [R. at 453-54]. In October 2011, the claimant was seen at Grady Health System (Exhibit 12F) after losing her health insurance and reported that she had stopped taking Metformin for her diabetes because her glucose levels were well-controlled and that she was walking daily for ten minutes. She had also achieved significant weight loss. [R. at 626].
X-rays of the claimant's lumbar spine in October 2010 showed intervertebral disc space narrowing with degenerative changes at L5-Sl. There was mild dextroscoliosis present, and the claimant was diagnosed with lumbar radiculopathy. (Exhibit 7F).
In August 2011, the claimant was evaluated at the Piedmont Heart Institute. Her underlying rhythm was sinus bradycardia. She was not pacemaker dependent. Although she reported muscle spasms in the area of the device, further evaluation showed that the device was stable. Records from Grady Hospital in October 2011 indicate arrhythmia and the need for follow up. (Exhibits 10F, 12F).
Despite these impairments, the claimant performed sedentary work on a full time basis for over a year after applying for benefits, from early 2010 through April 2011. At the hearing in February 2012, however, the claimant testified that she was only walking to her mailbox due to back and leg pain and that she needs a cane. [R. at 45, 54]. When asked if the cane was prescribed, she stated that she started using a cane on her own after she fell down the stairs. [R. at 45]. Medical records consistently show that the claimant has a normal gait. [R. at 29].
The claimant demonstrated 5/5 grip strength and intact sensation throughout in June 2011. (Exhibit 9F). At the hearing in February 2012, she alleged a loss of grip strength. The claimant also testified that her high blood pressure is not fully controlled. Records in February 2011 indicate that she was not taking her medications for one month. (Exhibit 7F).
Additional facts will be set forth as necessary during discussion of ...