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Jenkins v. Social Security Administration

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

June 21, 2017




         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Pamela Jenkins' Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 14), to which Defendant Social Security Administration (SSA) has responded (Doc. No 18). Plaintiff did not file a reply to the SSA's response. Upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the transcript of the administrative record (Doc. No. 10), [1]and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment will be DENIED and the decision of the SSA will be AFFIRMED.

         I. Magistrate Judge Referral

         In order to ensure the prompt resolution of this matter, the Court will VACATE the referral to the Magistrate Judge.

         II. Introduction

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on January 7, 2011, [2] alleging disability onset as of January 7, 2011, [3] due to HIV infection, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 141.) Her claim to benefits was denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of state agency review. Plaintiff subsequently requested de novo review of her case by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Plaintiffs case was heard on March 29, 2013, when Plaintiff appeared with counsel and gave testimony. (Tr. 26-61.) Testimony was also received from an impartial vocational expert. (Id.) At the conclusion of the hearing, the matter was taken under advisement until April 30, 2013, when the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 6-21.) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 7, 2011, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: HIV infection, lumbar degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the left shoulder and hand; and bipolar disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. [T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except she cannot more than frequently reach overhead, handle or finger with her left arm and hand; is limited to simple repetitive work; cannot maintain attention and concentration for more than two hours without interruption; and cannot interact with the public.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on October 20, 1970 and was 40 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since January 7, 2011, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 11-13, 16-17.)

         On June 17, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5), thereby rendering that decision the final decision of the SSA. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole, then those findings are conclusive. Id.

         III. Review of the Record

         The following summary of the medical record is taken from the ALJ's decision:

The claimant has a history of HIV, but treatment notes show that the claimant's HIV is stable with good immune response and undetectable viral load (Exs. 4F, p. 4 and 5F, p. 3). At a May 2012 office visit, the claimant's general appearance was described as "healthy looking." A diagnostic imaging report of the claimant's left shoulder from December 2010 showed AC and glenohumeral joint space narrowing consistent with osteoarthritis.
A diagnostic imaging report of the claimant's left finger showed osteopenia and osteoarthritic changes of the left hand. Although the claimant displayed 50% decreased range of motion in the left shoulder and fourth finger on several occasions, there were no focal abnormalities noted (Exs. 4F, p. 3 and 5F, p. 2).
The claimant presented to Seven Springs Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine (Seven Springs) on December 14, 2012, with complaints of a one week history of back pain with left leg numbness and tingling. Although the claimant displayed tenderness in the left paralumbar region into the left leg, her stance was erect with good heel to toe gait. While straight leg raise testing was positive, the claimant had negative crossover straight leg raise tests. The claimant's "EHL"[4] and quad strengths were symmetrical and equal. A diagnostic imaging report of the claimant's back showed minimal changes at ¶ 4-5. The claimant was administered injectable medication in the office and given a steroid dose pack and Flexeril (Ex. 15F, p. 5). The claimant returned to Seven Springs on December 29, 2012, with complaints of persistent back pain, despite medications. An examination of the claimant was essentially unchanged f[rom] her previous visit, except the claimant ambulated with a mildly antalgic gait.[5] The claimant was sent for a magnetic resonance imaging scan of her back (Ex. 15F, p. 3). The claimant presented to Seven Springs on January 17, 2013, for follow up and with complaints of excruciating back pain. Although the claimant had paralumbar soreness over her back, straight leg raise tests were normal. An examination of the claimant's lumbar spine showed normal alignment. With the exception of "EHL" weakness against resistance, the claimant displayed no obvious reflex, sensory, or motor deficits. The claimant's sensation was intact subjectively. She had easily palpable pedal pulse with brisk capillary refill. A magnetic resonance imaging report of the claimant's back revealed mild degenerative disc disease, but no evidence for nerve compression or central canal or foraminal stenosis or narrowing (Ex. 15F, p. 1). The claimant was sent for a nerve conduction study of the left lower extremity to assess for possible peripheral neuropathy or other root cause of her symptoms. The claimant was prescribed Ultram and advised to return after the nerve conduction study or sooner if she had problems (Ex. 15F, p. 2). It is uncertain if the claimant had a nerve conduction study of her left lower extremity because there are no additional records from Seven Springs for review.
The claimant has received mental health treatment for bipolar disorder at the Meharry Medical College Community Wellness Center. The claimant presented for a psychiatry follow up on March 7, 2011. Treatment notes document the claimant's reports that her medication Seroquel made her do "strange things." The claimant also reported that her medication Depakote was working, but stopped after two weeks. The claimant said that she stopped taking the Seroquel.
She told her mental health provider that she was previously treated with Elavil and that she liked this medication (Ex. 4F, p. 5). The claimant was started on Elavil (Ex. 12F, p. 1). Treatment notes from Seven Springs document the claimant's ...

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