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Hunter v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division

January 24, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Docket Entry No. 14). The motion has been fully briefed by the parties.

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance under Title II and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), as provided by the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Upon review of the administrative record as a whole and consideration of the parties' filings, the Court finds that the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act is supported by substantial evidence in the record as required by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff's motion will be granted.


         Plaintiff, Mary Ellen Hunter, filed a Title II application for disability insurance and a Title XVI application for SSI on November 15, 2010, alleging disability as of November 1, 2010. Plaintiff's claims were denied at the initial level on April 27, 2011, and on reconsideration on August 12, 2011. (Tr. 62-66, 68-73). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on July 30, 2012. (Tr. 12, 27, 76). On September 12, 2102, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 9-26). Plaintiff timely filed an appeal with the Appeals Council, which issued a written notice of denial on December 18, 2013. (Tr. 1-6). This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the Court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 12, 2012. (AR p. 9). Based upon the record, the ALJ made the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, depression, asthma, and sleep apnea (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 the severity of 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 to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that the claimant would be limited to frequent climbing, balancing, stopping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The claimant should avoid exposure to smoke, temperature extremes, and exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. However, the claimant can sit up to 8 hours in an 8-hour workday, no more than 1hour at a time and stand or walk up to 4 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant should not be required to perform constant gripping with either hand or perform jobs with repetitive movements. Additionally, the claimant is capable of understanding and remembering simple instructions as well as maintaining persistence and pace for 2- hour periods. The claimant is able to interact with others appropriately.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as an assistant manager at check cashing company and an assistant teacher. 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 November 1, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(AR pp.14 -20).


         The following summary of the evidence of record is taken from Plaintiff's brief, Docket Entry No. 15 at pp. 2-5:

Mary Hunter was 40 years old when she applied for these benefits. She lives in Cookeville, Tennessee with her husband David, an electrician, and is the mother of an adult daughter. [TR 36] She attained nine years of formal schooling and completed a G.E.D. In 1992 she became a certified nursing assistant and worked, “off and on” in this field until she became disabled in September 2010. She performed similar tasks as a CNA while working at Pacesetters, a local program that provided services for mentally challenged adults and as a special education teacher assistant at a local high school. [TR 611] Between October 2007 and March 2008 she worked briefly as an assistant manager at a check cashing store. [TR 179] Dr. Julian Nadolsky, a vocational expert, testified that her work as an assistant manager was light and semi-skilled, and that her work as a CNA, including her work at Pacesetters as a teacher assistant, was medium and semi-skilled. [TR 58]
Mary Hunter suffers from diabetes, back pain and severe breathing impairments. She is also morbidly obese, a complex disease that exacerbates her other impairments. On August 5, 2008, Dr. David Henson administered a complete polysomogram on this patient. At the time, she was 5'2” tall and weighed 249 pounds, with a BMI of 45.54. This sleep study was done to quantify the possibility of a sleep disorder, and it revealed obstructive sleep apnea, hypoxema and periodic limb movement disorder. [TR 300-301]
On February 23, 2009 Ms. Hunter was seen at the Cancer Center at Cookeville Regional Medical Center after undergoing a thyroidectomy for a small nidus of papillary carcinoma. [TR 401]
On November 29, 2010 Ms. Hunter had an MRI scan of her lumbar spine. The lumbar vertebral bodies were normal in height and in anatomic alignment. There was narrowing of the disc space and disc desiccation at ¶ 3-4 and L5-S1. There was a prominent annular bulge at ¶ 5-S1. There was also ventral thecal sac compression at ¶ 5-S1 and a small central disc herniation was present. There was no lateralizing nerve root compression. The diagnostic impression was degenerative disc disease. [TR 428] Ms. Hunter made several visits to the emergency room in 2010. On January 1, 2010 she was admitted as a walk-in to the ER, and had a chest x-ray. [TR 482] This procedure was repeated on June 7, 2010 [TR 475], and on November 1, 2010. [TR 440] These impressions revealed remote healed granulomatous disease. This disease was chronically in plain tissue, usually caused by an infection.
On January 31, 2011 Ms. Hunter was evaluated by Dr. Donita Keown, a contract physician with the Tennessee Disability Determination Section. Ms. Hunter complained of a past history of non-insulin diabetes mellitus, and stated that her blood sugar was moderately controlled by Metformin. There was no evidence of retinopathy, renal impairment, nor neuropathy of diabetic foot ulcers. Ms. Hunter also complained of back pain and Dr. Keown reported degenerative changes to her lumbar spine. She was also 100 pounds overweight. She utilized BiPap to manage her sleep apnea. She complained of arthritis in her hands, along with carpal tunnel syndrome, which caused her hands to feel pain and weakness. [TR 617] Dr. Keown's diagnosis included obstructive sleep apnea, tobacco dependence, asthma, surgical hypothyroidism, and uncomplicated diabetes mellitus. [TR 619] Dr. Keown believed that Ms. Hunter could continuously lift up to to 10 pounds and 20 pounds, and frequently lift between 20 and 100 pounds. She also believed Ms. Hunter could occasionally carry between 50 and 100 pounds. [TR 621]
Dr. Vicki Kalen, a state agency medical doctor, evaluated Ms. Hunter's medical evidence on April 25, 2011, and essentially [agreed with] Dr. Keown's findings and conclusions. She believed that Ms. Hunter could occasionally lift and carry 50 pounds, frequently lift and carry 25 pounds, stand with normal breaks for about 6 hours a day, sit with normal breaks about 6 hours a day, and could ...

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