United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
ORDER AND OPINION 
J. BAVERMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Gwendolyn Gay Kersh (“Plaintiff”) brought this
action pursuant to sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“the Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”)
under the Social Security Act. For the reasons below, the
undersigned AFFIRMS the final decision of
filed applications for DIB and SSI on February 11, 2013,
alleging disability commencing on October 1, 2011. [Record
(hereinafter “R”) at 204-15]. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially on July 9, 2013, and upon
reconsideration on November 27, 2013. [R85-136, 141-48,
153-56]. Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on
December 31, 2013. [R157-58]. An evidentiary hearing was held
on January 28, 2015, [R46-84], during which Plaintiff amended
the alleged onset date to August 23, 2013, her fifty-fifth
birthday, [R50, 233]. The ALJ issued a decision on March 20,
2015, denying Plaintiff's application on the ground that
she was not “disabled” under sections 216(i) and
223(d) of the Social Security Act from the alleged onset date
of August 23, 2013, through the date of the decision. [R35].
Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, and the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
May 18, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. [R1-6].
then initiated her action in this Court on July 22, 2016,
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. [Doc. 1].
The answer and transcript were filed on December 16, 2016.
[Docs. 9, 10]. On January 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed a brief
in support of her petition for review of the
Commissioner's decision, [Doc. 13], and on February 17,
2017, the Commissioner filed a response in support of the
decision. [Doc. 14]. The matter is now before the Court upon
the administrative record, the parties' pleadings, and
the parties' briefs, and it is accordingly ripe for
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
STATEMENT OF FACTS
was born on August 23, 1958, and therefore was fifty-six
years old at the time the ALJ issued his decision. [R35, 53,
233]. Plaintiff has a high-school education and prior work
experience as both a stock clerk and a collector. [R52-53,
237, 248]. She alleges disability based on chronic kidney
disease, emphysema, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
acid reflux, chronic pulmonary disease (“COPD”),
depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and arthritis in the
back. [R51, 247].
hearing held before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that she had
not engaged in any work activity since her disability onset
date of August 23, 2013. [R53]. She stated she has
depression, and that the last couple of years had been
difficult for her and her husband because he had lost his
job, they had to declare bankruptcy, they lost their house,
and they had to move in with Plaintiff's parents. [R57,
77-78]. She reported that her general practitioner prescribes
her medication for depression but that it had not been
recommended that she see a mental-health professional. [R78].
She takes an antidepressant every day and “get[s]
through it the best [she] can.” [R78].
explained that her most severe medical impairments are
fatigue and the arthritis in her back. [R54]. She indicated
that the pain was in her lower back and goes down in her
legs, [R57], and that it keeps her from doing a lot of
housework and requires her to break up tasks over the course
of a day. [R54-55]. Plaintiff treats the back pain with
naproxen and aspirin and will lie down during the
day for relief. [R56]. Plaintiff testified that since her
husband lost his job, she has been without health insurance,
which negatively affected her ability to seek treatment for
her back pain. [R56-57].
further testified that she has been treated for shortness of
breath, bronchitis, emphysema, and COPD, and that she had cut
back to smoking one-to-two cigarettes per day. [R59]. She
stated that pulmonary function testing was suggested when she
was first diagnosed with COPD, but it was at about the same
time her husband lost his job. [R61-62]. She reported that
shortness of breath caused her fatigue but that she was not
on any medication for a pulmonary condition. [R63-64].
also reported that she has pain associated with the use of
her right arm and hand and has difficulty lifting laundry,
washing dishes, and folding clothes. [R75-76]. She takes
Nexium every day for a hiatal hernia and stomach
ulcer, [R79], and she takes medication every night for
neuropathy she characterizes as burning pain in her feet,
[R80]. She stated that the neuropathy medication helps a lot
but that leg pain still limits her sleeping, which causes
daytime fatigue and affects her concentration. [R80-81].
2004, Plaintiff sought medical care at Rockdale Family
Practice, P.C., for neck pain and numbness in the middle two
fingers of her right hand. [R390]. The impression given was
neck pain and paresthesia in the fingers of the right hand;
Plaintiff was referred for a neck x-ray, and she was
prescribed neurontin. [R390].
returned to Rockdale Family Practice on March 22, 2005, with
complaints of back pain, numbness in her hand, and pain in
the right upper quadrant of her abdomen. [R386]. It was noted
that an x-ray of Plaintiff's right hand showed arthritic
changes but was otherwise remarkable, and an MRI yielded
normal results. [R386]. Plaintiff was started on nonsteroidal
medications, given bilateral elbow bands for tendinitis, and
given twenty Darvocet-N 100 pills,  with no refills. [R386].
March 21, 2010, after Plaintiff experienced slurred speech,
she underwent a head computerized tomography
(“CT”) scan at Rockdale Medical Center. [R424].
The interpreting physician opined that the CT showed no acute
abnormality but also noted that it showed “coarse
calcifications in the caudate nuclei and lateral basal
ganglia on the left, ” that the calcifications were
“likely degenerative but could be physiological,
” and that clinical correlation could be helpful in
determining their significance. [R424].
later, Plaintiff suffered generalized weakness and shortness
of breath and was admitted for hospitalization at Rockdale
Medical Center. [R431-37]. Her current medications were noted
to be Nexium, Lipitor,  and lisinopril. [R433]. She
was assessed with acute bronchitis,  dehydration, hypokalemia,
and hypomagnesemia. [R433].
February 15, 2011, Plaintiff was found unresponsive by her
husband and subsequently hospitalized for an overdose of
tramadol. [R450]. At discharge, her medications
consisted of albuterol,  Lipitor, clonidine,  Nexium, KCI,
lisinopril, and amlodipine. [R444].
January 13, 2012, Plaintiff reported to Snapfinger Woods
Family Practice Group with complaints of cough, wheezing,
chest discomfort, sinus pressure and congestion, and nasal
drainage and congestion. [R483]. A chest CT taken on January
18, 2012, indicated emphysema but was negative for acute
pulmonary process. [R496].
and neck CT taken on March 5, 2013, showed arthritic changes
to Plaintiff's right hand and shoulder and
“presumed” small airways disease. [R543-44].
4, 2013, state agency medical consultant Abraham Oyewo, M.D.,
reviewed the record and opined that Plaintiff did not have
any exertional, postural, or manipulative limitations, but
must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts,
gases, and poor ventilation. [R93-94, 105-06].
2013, licensed psychologist Douglas E. Webb, Jr., Ph.D.,
conducted a consultative psychological evaluation. [R551-56].
In addition to her physical complaints, Plaintiff alleged
anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. [R551]. Plaintiff
reported that she began receiving outpatient treatment for
depressive symptoms in 2002 and was prescribed antidepressant
medications by her family physician. [R552]. Dr. Webb
diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder (Moderate). [R554]. He
opined that Plaintiff was not limited in terms of
understanding and remembering simple and detailed
instructions in a work setting or sustaining concentration,
persistence, and pace. [R555]. He further opined that she was
mildly limited in terms of interacting with the public,
co-workers, and supervisors, and adapting to the stress of a
typical work environment. [R556].
5, 2013, state agency reviewing consultant Allen Carter,
Ph.D., opined that Plaintiff had mild restriction of
activities of daily living; mild difficulties in maintaining
social functioning; and mild difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. [R91-92, 103-04].
October 8, 2013, state agency reviewing consultant Janise
Hinson, Ph.D., affirmed the mental rating assessed by Dr.
Carter in July 2013. [R116, 130].
October 25, 2013, state agency reviewing physician Madena
Gibson, M.D., affirmed Dr. Oyewo's May 2013 assessment of
Plaintiff's physical limitations. [R116-19, 130-33].
November 20, 2013, Plaintiff underwent a consultative
examination conducted by G. N. Kini, M.D. [R575-81].
Plaintiff reported, among other things, that she had been
having lower-back pain, radiating into her legs, for the past
ten years and had been investigated for it, was receiving
pain medication from a pain clinic, and had refused to take
an epidural steroid injection that had been recommended.
present medications were Xanax,  a Ventolin inhaler,
gemfibrozil,  lisinopril, amlodipine, meloxicam,
and omeprazole. [R576]. Upon examination, Dr. Kini found
that Plaintiff's lungs were clear; she had normal range
of motion in her back, neck, shoulders, elbows, forearms,
wrists, hip, knees, ankles, and feet; a straight-leg raising
test was normal on both sides; her manual
dexterity, grip and pinch strength, graded extremity
strength, and gait were normal; and an x-ray of the lumbar
spine yielded normal results. [R576, 578-81]. Dr. Kini
assessed chronic cigarette abuse, questionable COPD,
controlled hypertension, acid reflux, anxiety, depression,
and back pain. [R577]. He opined that Plaintiff's anxiety
and depression did “not appear to be serious enough to
consider disabling” and that her “back pain also
does not appear severe enough to prevent her from being
employed in most normal occupations.” [R577]. Dr. Kini
further opined that if Plaintiff used an inhaled steroid and
long-acting bronchodilator, “she should be able to work
in her previous occupation as a secretary without any
problems, ” and he stated that overall, Plaintiff's
examination “did not substantiate her claim of
November 27, 2013, state agency reviewing physician William
Hand, M.D., affirmed Dr. Oyewo's May 2013 assessment of
Plaintiff's physical limitations. [R116-17, 130-31].