United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JOHN S. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.
This is a civil action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration ("SSA" or "the Administration") denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, as provided under the Social Security Act. The case is currently pending on plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 17), to which defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 21). Upon consideration of these papers and the transcript of the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 13),  and for the reasons given below, the undersigned recommends that plaintiff's motion for judgment be DENIED and that the decision of the SSA be AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff filed her claims to disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on October 22, 2009 and February 9, 2010, respectively, alleging that she became disabled on October 16, 2009, as a result of her degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy due to sciatica, and diabetic neuropathy. (Tr. 132-43, 168-69). Her claims were denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of state agency review, whereupon plaintiff filed a request for de novo hearing and decision by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Prior to the hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged onset date, to June 9, 2010. An administrative hearing was held on December 6, 2011, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel. (Tr. 27-55) Plaintiff testified, as did an impartial vocational expert. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ took the matter under advisement, until March 27, 2012, when she issued a written decision in which plaintiff was found to be not disabled. (Tr. 14-21) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 16, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease and lumbar spondylosis, diabetic polyneuropathy, diabetes mellitus and hypertension (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she can lift/carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can stand/walk up to two hours in an eight hour workday with normal breaks; she can sit for up to six hours with normal breaks in an eight hour workday; she can push/pull up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently with her bilateral upper extremities; she can occasionally push/pull and operate foot controls within the above weight limitations; she can occasionally climb stairs, frequently climb ramps and never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; she is limited to occasional exposure to vibrations; she can understand and remember simple and detailed instructions; she is capable of maintaining concentration, persistence and pace in two hour segments with normal breaks; she can have frequent contact with the public and coworkers for task completion.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a billing clerk. This work does not require the performance of work related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 16, 2009, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).
(Tr. 16-17, 20)
On July 2, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6), thereby rendering that decision the final decision of the Administration. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). If the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, based on the record as a whole, then those findings are conclusive. Id.
II. Review of the Record
The following summary of the record is taken in large measure from defendant's brief, Docket Entry No. 21 at 4-7.
A. Age, Education and Work Experience
Plaintiff, born in November 1968 (Tr. 132), was 41 years of age at the time of her alleged onset of disability on October 16, 2009, and would be classified as a "younger person" under the disability regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563 and 416.963. Plaintiff had a high school GED equivalent education, without attending any special education classes, and graduated from a college pharmacy technician program in 2007, but let her license expire (Tr. 34, 169).
Plaintiff last worked right before her alleged disability onset in September-October 2009 as a warehouse packer and tester of printers, which required lifting up to 100 pounds with frequent lifting of 50 pounds (Tr. 170, 182-185). She worked at this job for 8 hours per day for 5 days a week even though she explained in her disability work history form that "she knew she could not lift" but took the job to provide for her children (Tr. 185).
Previously, plaintiff worked from January 2005 to May 2006 as a billing clerk for a vascular surgeon, which required only the handling of small objects (Tr. 35, 182-183). From 1992 to 1994, she had worked as an insurance company claims specialist, which required lifting of mail tubs (Tr. 35, 182-184).
B. Additional Testimonial Evidence
Plaintiff testified at the December 2011 administrative hearing that she lives with her husband and two sons, aged three and nine years old (Tr. 33). She testified that the biggest issue that keeps her from working is back pain radiating down a leg making her unable to sit or stand very long (Tr. 36). She further testified that she followed all her medical providers instructions and that she has been able to get all medical care and treatment suggested under Tenncare (Tr. 36). As noted supra, in a pain questionnaire dated March 13, 2010, plaintiff indicated that her alleged lower and middle back pain began in middle school (Tr. 190). She also testified that she did not understand why her new physician at Pain Management Group, whom she has seen for 3 months, cut in half her pain medication (Tr. 37-38). Her new physician recommended a steroidal nerve block, which she could not schedule until her diabetes was under control (Tr. 38, 47). She has sciatica that flares up once a month depending on how much walking she has to do (Tr. 46).
Plaintiff also testified that she has had diabetes since 1996 (Tr. 44). She further testified that due to neuropathy "for the most part I can't feel my feet" and that she is not sure if this is ...