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Edna H. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

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

August 8, 2019

EDNA H., Plaintiff,



         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 application. For the reasons set forth below, the court ORDERS that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on May 19, 2014, alleging that she became disabled on April 30, 2014. [Record (“R.”) at 20, 189]. After Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, a hearing was held by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 20, 2016. [R. at 20, 36-79, 131, 141]. The ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim on March 29, 2017, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 16, 2018. [R. at 8-13, 20-30]. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on March 21, 2018, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. [Doc. 3]. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge.

         II. Facts

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following impairments which are severe within the meaning of the Social Security regulations: diabetes mellitus and hypertension. [R. at 22]. The ALJ also found that the following are non-severe impairments: obesity, diabetes, degenerative joint disease, lumbar disc disease, and depression. [R. at 22-23]. Despite the existence of these impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [R. at 24]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a companion because it does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). [R. at 28]. The ALJ also made an alternative finding that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. [R. at 29-30]. As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability from April 30, 2014, the alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. [R. at 30].

         The decision of the ALJ [R. at 20-30] states the relevant facts of this case as modified herein as follows:

         The claimant was born on May 11, 1960, and was 53 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to advanced age. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563). The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).

         The claimant has left hip pain, left shoulder pain, diabetic retinopathy, low back pain, and obesity. The evidence shows that the claimant is 5'7” in height and weighs 203 pounds, which is obese. (Ex. 2F at 24). The claimant is to follow a diet plan, avoid high calorie drinks, and exercise. With regard to lumbar disc disease, the claimant reported low back pain radiating down into her right leg. (Ex. 6F at 20). In July of 2014, the claimant was involved in an automobile accident resulting in moderate low back, neck, and head pain. (Ex. 8F at 35). Examination revealed little, if any, evidence of joint pain, joint swelling, neck pain, extremity pain, extremity swelling, motor deficits, or sensory deficits. (Ex. 8F at 36). The claimant did not require overnight hospitalization, but she was prescribed pain medication upon discharge from the Emergency Room. (Ex. 8F at 38). An MRI of the lumbar spine revealed multi-level degenerative disc disease at ¶ 4-L5 with right disc protrusion, and she had difficulty walking on her heels and toes due to pain. (Ex. 6F at 20-21). Notwithstanding, the evidence shows that the claimant walked with a normal gait, had normal muscle tone, and 5/5 muscle strength in all major muscle groups. (Ex. 6F at 8, 21). Straight leg raising was negative, and range of motion in the lumbar spine was painless. (Ex. 8F at 37).

         At the hearing, the claimant reported having significant left shoulder pain. However, there is little or no evidence of any fracture, dislocation, joint arthritis, or joint swelling of the shoulder. (Ex. 11F at 3, 4, 6, 18). The claimant alleged having left hip pain which caused difficulty getting out of bed in the morning due to stiffness, but there is little evidence to support disabling degenerative hip disease. The claimant also alleged having decreased visual acuity. However, there is no neovascularization and no clinically significant macular edema. (Ex. 9F at 5; Ex. 10F at 82).

         The claimant has alleged severe depression. However, her depression does not cause more than minimal limitation in her ability to perform basic mental work activities, and there is no medical opinion that her depression significantly limits her ability to perform work-like activities.

         On June 23, 2014, the claimant completed a Function Report. (Ex. 7E). She reported having diabetic neuropathy in her hands and feet. The claimant stated that she is able to prepare light meals, complete household cleaning, do laundry, drive, grocery shop, follow written and verbal instructions, and get along with people. Notwithstanding, she reported that she required help with vacuuming, washing dishes, putting clothes in the dryer, and performing yard work. In addition, the claimant reported having difficulty sustaining attention/concentration due to depression.

         The claimant testified that she has suffered with diabetic neuropathy for twenty years, which has progressed to requiring insulin three times per day. She also reported having ongoing bilateral foot pain as a result of diabetes. The claimant stated that she required brief hospitalizations in 2012 and in 2014 at Eastside Emory Hospital due to uncontrolled blood glucose levels, bilateral foot pain, and episode of syncope.

         The claimant alleges that diabetic neuropathy has limited her mobility, balance, and ability to operate foot controls. She alleges that diabetic retinopathy has affected both eyes, causing blurry vision and bleeding behind her eyes. The claimant also alleges that bending or stooping causes left hip and knee pain and that she is limited to walking no more than five to ten minutes and sitting for twenty to thirty minutes (with no low sitting). She further reported having difficulty with overhead reaching with the left arm due to previous car accidents and bursitis.

         The claimant reported that she took prescribed pain medications for diabetic neuropathy but that the medication caused drowsiness, balance problems, and disorientation. She testified that her foot pain was generally at level eight in severity on a pain scale of one to ten. Nonetheless, the claimant reported never being pain-free. She stated that, on good days after taking medication, her pain dropped to a five or six in severity but that, on a bad day, her pain remained at a high level.

         The claimant further indicated having low back pain due to degenerative disc disease with lumbar spondylosis, subsequent to a car accident in 2000. To treat her disc disease, the claimant testified that she uses hot compresses and Advil. In addition, the claimant testified that she suffers from hypertension, which causes “nagging” headaches and tiredness to the point where she must lie down (time not specified).

         With regard to performing activities of daily living, the claimant indicated that she was able to perform self-care needs unassisted, make up her bed, do some household chores, load the dishwasher, make herself breakfast, drive, and grocery shop. For entertainment, she reported that she used to enjoy bowling but that she quit due to her physical condition.

         The claimant has suffered with diabetes for a number of years. Documented blood workup revealed an A1C of 10%, but her goal was set for 7%. (Ex. 2F at 8, 9). Originally, the claimant was treated with Metformin due to an A1C level of 6.5%, but the medication was not well tolerated. (Ex. 6F at 43). Thereafter, the claimant developed uncontrolled diabetes with diabetic neuropathy, including burning, tingling, and numbness in her hands and feet. (Ex. 2F ...

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