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Hazelton v. Berryhill

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

November 2, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          JOHN K. LARKINS III United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case is before the Court on Plaintiff Beverly Hazelton's suit challenging the partial denial of her application for disability insurance benefits by the Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). For the reasons discussed below, I RECOMMEND that the decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED and the case REMANDED for further proceedings.


         In January 2013, Hazelton applied for disability income benefits, alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2012. (Tr. 145-50.) The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 96-99, 101-03.) Hazelton had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on January 29, 2015. (Tr. 42-79.) On March 19, 2015, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding that Hazelton was not disabled for the period between September 1, 2012, and July 30, 2013, but that beginning July 31, 2013, she was disabled. (Tr. 21-41.) Hazelton requested review of the hearing decision (Tr. 16-18), and on September 19, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 1-6). Hazelton then filed the instant civil action seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits.


         On October 12, 2009, Hazelton presented to Piedmont Rheumatology Consultants, P.C. with complaints of “bad pain in [her] left side back mostly but on the right also, ” as well as general complaints of stomach and back pain. (Tr. 313.) She was prescribed medication and instructed to return six months later. (Tr. 315.) On April 28, 2010, she returned to Piedmont Rheumatology Consultants with complaints of back, leg, and ankle pain. (Tr. 308.) William H. Wilson, M.D., conducted a physical examination and concluded that the pain suggested degenerative arthritis of the lower lumbar spine. (Tr. 309.) He assessed her with osteoarthrosis, generalized, in multiple sites. (Id.) In November 2010, Hazelton was again seen by Dr. Wilson. (Tr. 303.) She complained of pain extending from her left hip down through the foot, along with right hip pain. (Id.) She described her pain as eight on a scale of ten. (Id.) Dr. Wilson found that the limb pain was sciatic in nature and again suggested degenerative arthritis of the lower lumbar spine, and he treated her medication and a steroid injection. (Tr. 304-05.) From December 2010 through September 2011, Hazelton continued to visit Piedmont Rheumatology Consultants for treatment of leg, ankle, and foot pain. (Tr. 290-302.)

         On August 17, 2012, while walking in a parking lot, Plaintiff was struck by a truck. (Tr. 217.) She sustained injuries to the neck, back, and left hip, and was treated in the Emergency Department of Atlanta Medical Center. (Tr. 211-12, 217-47.) On August 24, 2012, she presented to Peachtree Spine Physicians complaining of back pain, which she described as nine on a scale of ten. (Tr. 257.) She described the pain as sharp, aching, throbbing, shooting, and burning; stated that her symptoms were aggravated by lifting, bending, laying, sitting, walking, and coughing; and indicated that the symptoms were relieved with medication. (Id.) Imaging studies from September 4, 2012, showed small disc protrusion, left posterior disc herniation, and a very large anterior spur potential affecting the esophagus; however, Hazelton reported no difficulty swallowing. (Tr. 255.) Imaging also indicated multilevel lumbar disc and facet degeneration and posterior disc protrusion. (Id.) She was prescribed physical therapy at Sovereign Physical Therapy, where she attended at least thirteen sessions from September through late October 2012. (Tr. 255, 354-82.)

         On November 2, 2012, Hazelton returned to Peachtree Spine Physicians for follow-up after physical therapy. (Tr. 214.) She reported back and neck pain and “aching” in her right upper extremity. (Tr. 214, 253.) She stated that she was experiencing continuous pain, and that the pain radiated to her shoulders. (Id.) On November 20, 2012, she again visited Peachtree Spine Physicians complaining of back pain that radiated to the mid and upper back. (Tr. 250.) She was diagnosed with lumbardosacral spondylosis without myelopathy and herniated intervertebral disc. (Tr. 251.)

         On February 7, 2013, Hazelton presented at Primary Care Specialists, LLC and saw Courtney D. Shelton, M.D. for joint pain involving multiple sites, obesity, and hyperlipidemia. (Tr. 266.) On February 19, 2013, she returned to Primary Care Specialists for a follow-up. (Tr. 267.)

         Hazelton returned to Piedmont Rheumatology Consultants in April 2013, complaining of pain in the knees, ankles, back, neck, and shoulders. (Tr. 283.) Dr. Wilson noted that her hands were tender and that Hazelton reported that they “lock up sometimes.” (Tr. 286.)

         On July 20, 2013, Dr. Wilson completed a Health Care Professional Certification for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (“MARTA”) in which he indicated that Hazelton had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and multiple joint pain and that she had difficulty walking or standing for prolonged periods of time. (Tr. 330.) He noted that she could walk only less than one city block without assistance, that she could not walk up stairs without assistance, and that she was “unable to stand, walk, [or] sit for prolong[ed] period[s] of time.” (Tr. 331.) On July 23, 2013, MARTA approved her application for MARTA mobility. (Tr. 421.)

         On July 31, 2013, Hazelton was seen by Dr. Wilson for another physical examination. (Tr. 276). She complained of pain all over, and that it was worse in the back, hands, neck and arms. (Id.) She stated that she was having difficulty writing or typing for long periods of time. (Id.) Dr. Wilson noted that her hands were tender and that Hazelton complained that they would lock up on occasion. (Tr. 279.) Hazelton returned to Piedmont Rheumatology Consultants in December 2013, May 2014, and September 2014. (Tr. 429, 439, 445, 451.)

         On November 26, 2014, Dr. Wilson completed a Pain Evaluation questionnaire in which he reported that Hazelton experienced generalized joint and muscle pain at a level of eight to nine out of ten, and that she had suffered from the pain since October 2009. (Tr. 477.) He indicated that her complaints of pain were credible, and opinioned that the pain would prevent her from concentrating and completing tasks in a timely manner, and that she would “constantly” be off task- i.e., more than 67% of the time-due to pain. (Id.)

         III. THE PARTIALLY ...

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