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Tameka J. v. Commissioner, Social Secuirty Adminstration

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

August 27, 2019

TAMEKA J., 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 February 23, 2015, alleging that she became disabled on January 15, 2015. [Record (“R.”) at 16, 725, 879]. After Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, a hearing was held by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May 11, 2017. [R. at 30-63, 713-40]. The ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim on February 28, 2018, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 9, 2018. [R. at 1-7, 13-23]. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on June 22, 2018, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. [Doc. 4]. 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: headaches, chronic low back pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), pain in shoulder, and cervicalgia. [R. at 18]. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff has the following non-severe impairments: tinnitus, hypertension, and substance abuse (alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco). [R. at 19]. Despite the presence 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 19-20]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's residual functional capacity allows her to perform past relevant work as a nurse's assistant and massage therapist. [R. at 20-22]. As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from January 15, 2015, the alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. [Id.].

         The decision of the ALJ [R. at 16-23] states the relevant facts of this case as modified herein as follows:

         The pertinent treatment notes from the Veterans Affairs (“VA”) Medical Center report that the claimant received treatment for PTSD, low back pain, neck pain, and foot pain. Objective findings have been minimal. In December 2014, diagnoses included major depressive disorder, cannabis use disorder, and alcohol use disorder. The claimant reported doing “okay” at the time. In January 2015, the claimant's mental status examination showed appropriate grooming and hygiene, good eye contact, no psychomotor agitation or retardation, organized and goal-directed thought processes, average concentration and intelligence, and fair insight and judgment. In March 2015, the claimant requested that a form be completed stating that she was stable enough to return to work. When the claimant was seen for a mental status evaluation in May 2015, the results were essentially unchanged from January 2015. The claimant reported getting out of the house more often and decreasing her cannabis use. The treatment provider noted that, during the examination, the claimant smiled frequently. (Exhibit B5F).

         The claimant cares for six children, and her duties include preparing meals, cleaning the home, and helping with homework. Her symptoms appear to be decreased when she is compliant with medication and abstains from substance abuse. In May 2015, the claimant was found to be stable and coping adequately. (Exhibit B1F, 19F).

         The claimant was incarcerated from mid-May 2015 until early July 2015. She was pregnant at the time. The claimant stated that she had a history of treatment for PTSD but that she had not been on medication for a while. She also reported a history of physical and sexual abuse. She stated that, because she was pregnant, she was going to hold off on treatment. The claimant denied problems with mood, anxiety, or psychotic symptoms. In June 2015, she was found to have no medical complaints. (Exhibit B3F).

         Darrel L. Murray, M. D., conducted a consultative examination of the claimant in September 2015. The claimant told Dr. Murray that she is able to make it through the day without medications. Dr. Murray described the claimant's appearance as “non-distressed.” She reported to Dr. Murray that she was able to shop for groceries, prepare meals, and do laundry. Dr. Murray reported no significant functional limitations. He diagnosed PTSD but no physical impairment. Dr. Murray opined that the claimant could sit up to eight hours, stand/walk up to eight hours, and was able to bend, kneel, crawl, stoop, and crouch. Dr. Murray reported no limitations with respect to the claimant's ability to reach, handle, feel, grasp, push, pull, or lift with both hands.

         Dr. Murray noted that there were no workplace, visual, or environmental limitations and that there was no need for an assistive device. (Exhibit B4F).

         The claimant presented to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in March 2016 complaining of low back pain and pain in the sacroiliac joints. The claimant rated the severity of her pain as 3/10. The examination revealed no significant abnormalities, and the claimant was referred to physical therapy. (Exhibit B10F/1-3).

         At the administrative hearing, the claimant testified that she has six children ranging in age from 13 years old to two months old. She stated that her main problem pertains to mental health issues. She testified that she was sexually assaulted by a physician while in the military. The claimant reported mood swings, uncontrollable crying spells, problems with memory, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. She was arrested for murdering her boyfriend in 2015, but, according to her, the charges were later dropped based on self-defense. She reported that she had received a 70% disability rating from the VA, which was later upgraded. She asserted that the rating was based on PTSD. The claimant reported problems with her back, feet, and legs, and she stated that she wore special stockings for her legs. She appeared at the hearing with a cane; however, the record fails to establish the medical necessity of an assistive device. According to the claimant, she can stand no more than 30 to 40 minutes due to pain in her feet caused by plantar fasciitis. She stated that she could sit 30 to 45 minutes but would have to constantly move around and that she could walk two miles with stops. The claimant also reported that her mother is her caregiver and helps with the children.

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

         III. ...

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