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Beck-Easley v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

March 26, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


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 claims. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Kistina Beck-Easley filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on November 17, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of July 5, 2007. [Record ("R.") at 164-68]. After her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing which was held on January 12, 2012. [R. at 40-86]. On March 30, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. [R. at 20-39]. Plaintiff requested and the Appeals Council granted review of the ALJ's decision. On June 25, 2013, the Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings in part and found Plaintiff not disabled. [R. at 1-18]. Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a complaint on August 29, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. [Doc. 3]. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge.

II. Statement of Facts

Plaintiff was born on August 6, 1970, and was thirty-six years old at the time of her alleged onset of disability and forty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing. [R. at 5, 31]. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2011, and the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 5, 2007, the alleged onset date. [R. at 25].

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following impairments which are considered "severe" impairments within the meaning of the Social Security Regulations: chronic multiple sclerosis pain, fibromyalgia, cervical spine pain, chronic opioid usage and obesity. [R. at 25-26]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have a mental or physical impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the relevant listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and made specific findings that Plaintiff's mental impairment does not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04 (affective disorders) and 12.09 (substance addiction disorders).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of sedentary work with the following limitations. Plaintiff can lift 10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently. She can stand for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. And she can perform frequent push and pull and foot controls. Plaintiff requires a one-hour interval sit/stand option and a hand held assistive device for uneven terrain and prolonged ambulation. She can climb stairs occasionally but is unable to climb ladders. Plaintiff can occasionally balance, kneel, crawl, stoop and crouch. She is able to handle and finger frequently. Plaintiff cannot work around hazardous machinery, at unprotected heights or on vibrating surfaces. And Plaintiff is limited to work that involves simple, routine and repetitive work tasks or instructions, that does not require close coordination or interaction with co-workers or the general public, and that is low stress (requiring only occasional decision making and occasional changes in work setting), does not require confrontational involvement with a supervisor and not production pace. [R. at 27].

The ALJ found that a person with Plaintiff's RFC would not be able to perform her past relevant work as a home health provider, companion care person or server. [R. at 31]. Plaintiff is considered a younger individual and has at least a high school education and can speak English. The ALJ found that transferability of skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that Plaintiff is "not disabled" regardless of her transferable skills. [Id. (citation omitted)]. A vocational expert ("VE") testified that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the state and national economy that a person with the same age, education, work experience and RFC as Plaintiff can perform. [R. at 32]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was therefore not under a disability from her alleged onset date, July 5, 2007, through March 30, 2012, the date of the ALJ's decision. [Id.].

The ALJ's decision [R. at 15-27] states the relevant facts of this case as modified herein as follows:

The claimant testified that she is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs between 175 and 185 pounds. She lives with her husband, three boys and her granddaughter. She completed college. She testified that she is disabled due to her mental capacity, pain, swelling, stress, lack of ability to cope, hands swelling up and experiencing numbness of her hand. She tries to do small things for herself and her children and can wash dishes for 5 to 10 minutes.

In January 2010, the claimant completed a report in which she stated that she was able to dress, bathe, shave and feed herself and was going to church. (Exhibit 6E). Six months later, the claimant completed a report stating that she does not have any activities of daily living. (Exhibit 12E). The claimant's friend, Sandra Bell, also completed a report in June 2010. (Exhibit 11E). Ms. Bell reported that she talked on the telephone or saw the claimant at least 4 to 5 times per week and that the claimant was able to feed herself and prepare light meals, do laundry with assistance, fold clothes, dust and lift baskets of clothes and was able to drive a car and go shopping for groceries and personal items.

The claimant's medical records from Comprehensive Pain Management Center, Cobb Medical Associates, the Humber Parkerson Clinic, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Wellstar Cobb Hospital and the Pain Solution Treatment Center reflect the following treatment and opinions. (Exhibits 1F-33F). Dr. Dexter Tooman[1] completed an Attending Physician's Disability Statement on September 26, 2008, opining that the claimant was totally disabled due to fibromyalgia. (Exhibit 26F). Dr. Michaele Brown treated the claimant between June 19, 2008, and November 18, 2008, at Pain Solution Treatment Center and noted that, although the claimant complained of all over body pain to due to fibromyalgia, she reported improvement with home remedies such as Ben-Gay, Icy Hot and over the counter Advil and with other conservative treatment including swim therapy, a home exercise program and application of ice and heat packs. (Exhibit 1F). Dr. Brown also noted that the claimant did not have any trigger points, that she had an active range of motion, that her musculoskeletal examination revealed a normal gait and station and that the claimant's cervical and lumbar spine had normal curvature. Dr. Brown considered the claimant's mood and affect normal and appropriate to the situation. (Exhibit 1F).

Dr. Steven Gary Berger, a licensed consultative psychologist, examined the claimant on January 14, 2010. Although the claimant appeared anxious, Dr. Berger found that the claimant's thoughts were linked in a logical manner and no delusions were reported. The claimant had a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 55 indicating moderate symptoms. And Dr. Berger opined that the claimant could understand instructions although she would be slow in her task performance. (Exhibit 4F). In February 2010, Dr. William Meneese, a State agency psychologist, reviewed the claimant's records and completed a Psychiatric Review Technique form and found the claimant not disabled, and Dr. Cassandra Comer, a State agency physician, completed a Physical RFC Assessment and found the claimant not disabled. (Exhibits 6F, 7F).

Between July 2, 2010, and September 1, 2010, the claimant was treated at Austell Comprehensive Pain Management for neck and back pain. (Exhibit 12F). The claimant reported pain as 10/10 on a scale of 1-10 on July 2, 2010, but Dr. Preteesh Patel observed that the claimant was able to sit comfortably on the examination table without difficulty or any evidence of pain and that her gait was normal and that she reported that heat, ice and medication lessen her pain. And, on September 1, 2010, Dr. Patel noted that the claimant had normal curvature of the lumbar spine, hypertonic muscles and no trigger points. [R. at 442-43].

The claimant was evaluated by Dr. Carol Glover, a psychiatrist at Wellstar Cobb Hospital and Medical Center, on August 17, 2010, and seen a second time on September 14, 2010. Although the claimant presented with an anxious mood, Dr. Glover opined that the claimant's thought process was coherent, memory grossly intact and mood congruent. And the claimant reported that Xanax makes life more tolerable and helps to lessen the symptoms of her anxiety. (Exhibit 13F).

Dr. Paul Lance Walker, a consultative physician, examined the claimant on October 5, 2010, and found normal range of motion of her back including flexion, extension, lateral bending and lateral rotation and that she did not have any limitation with the functional use of her upper extremities. X-rays of the lumbar and cervical spine [R. at 460] show maintained vertebral body heights and alignment and no acute fracture or dislocation of the lumbar and cervical spine. Dr. Walker observed that the claimant walked slowly with a cane in her right hand but that she could walk in the room without a cane. (Exhibits 14F, 15F and 16F). And Dr. Willis Callins, a State agency medical consultant, opined on November 18, 2010, that the claimant could frequently lift and/or carry 25 pounds and occasionally lift 50 pounds as well as sit, stand and walk for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. (Exhibit 20F).

On March 16, 2011, at Dallas Comprehensive Pain Management, Dr. Anantha Kamath noted normal curvature of the claimant's spine, and Dr. Kamath was unable to identify any trigger points on deep palpation of the para-vertebral muscles. (Exhibit 21F). The claimant stated that her average pain was a 7/10, and Dr. Kamath noted that the claimant reported good pain relief with her medication with little to no side effects and that her ability to function was improved due to the effective pain control. [R. at 553-56]. And, in April 2011, Dr. Kamath noted that the claimant did not have any decreased lateral bending of the lumbar spine, that her heel and toe walk were normal, that reflexes were equal and symmetric and that her toes were "down-going." (Exhibit 24F).

Additional facts will be set forth as necessary during discussion of Plaintiff Beck-Easley's arguments.

III. Standard of Review

An individual is considered to be disabled if she is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment or impairments must result from anatomical, psychological, or physiological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and must be of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do her previous work but cannot, considering age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2) and (3).

"We review the Commissioner's decision to determine if it is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards." Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. at 1440. "Even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] factual findings, we must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). "We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner].'" Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

"The burden is primarily on the claimant to prove that [she] is disabled, and therefore entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits." Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a)). Under the regulations as promulgated by the Commissioner, a five step sequential procedure is followed in order to determine whether a claimant has met ...

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