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Manners v. Social Security Administration

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

August 3, 2017





         This is an action instituted under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383 for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 14)(“Motion for Judgment”) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 15), Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 16)(“Response”), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. No. 17), and the administrative record (Doc. No. 10).[1] For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Motion for Judgment (Doc. 14) be DENIED, that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED, and that final judgment be entered in favor of the Commissioner pursuant to Sentence 4 of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff filed this - her second - application for benefits in April 2012, alleging that she has been disabled since May 4, 2004, by reason of carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol, back pain, depression, and migraine headaches. Tr. 199. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).

         An administrative hearing was held on April 10, 2014. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified, as did vocational expert Rebecca G. Williams. Tr. 32-55. In a decision dated June 11, 2014, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from the date of her application through the date of the administrative decision. Tr. 12-25. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council declined review on November 3, 2015.

         This action was thereafter timely filed. The Court has jurisdiction over the matter. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The Findings and Conclusions of the ALJ

         In his decision, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 20, 2012, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: history of carpal tunnel syndrome with bilateral release, degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, mild and non-displaced tear of posterior horn in left knee, depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and adjustment disorder with moderate depressed mood (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. 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 416.967(b) except that she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can have no concentrated exposure to vibration. As for mental limitations, she can perform a job that has simple, routine and repetitive tasks. She can tolerate infrequent workplace changes and can have only occasional contact with the public. She can frequently handle and grasp bilaterally.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on March 1, 1965 and was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (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 April 20, 2012, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 14, 16, 23-24).

         Summary of Relevant Evidence

         Physical Impairments:

         In March 2010, Plaintiff was consultatively examined by Donita Keown, M.D. Plaintiff's primary complaint at that time was carpal tunnel syndrome, which was reported to be worse than before her bilateral carpal tunnel release in 2002. Tr. 316. Clinical findings included negative straight leg raising, negative neurological exam, and unremarkable gait and station; grip strength was intact. Tr. 318. Diagnoses included bilateral upper extremity complaints of unclear etiology; diabetes mellitus, type 2, well controlled; hypertension; asthma; chronic low back pain attributable to degenerative disease; chronic headache pain; and GERD. Tr. 318-19. According to Dr. Keown, Plaintiff could sit, and stand or walk, for 8 hours in an 8-hour workday, and could lift up to 40 pounds occasionally and up to 25 pounds frequently. Tr. 319.

         In July 2010, Juan Stacy Dinkins, D.O., treated Plaintiff for complaints of increased discomfort in the lower lumbar spine with paresthesias radiating into the lower extremity. On examination, Dr. Dinkins noted grip strength of 5/5, positive straight leg raising, equal and symmetric reflexes, paresthesia in the lower extremities that resembled a L5/S1 dermatomal pattern, Tr. 365, although a subsequent nerve conduction study was within normal limits and “[t]he likelihood of a right L5/S1 radiculopathy or proximal neuropathy [was] low.” Tr. 363. Dr. Dinkins also noted difficulty with heel and toe walking. Tr. 365. X-rays of the lumbar spine showed degenerative disk disease with disk space and foraminal narrowing, and facet arthropathy. There was no appreciable spondylolisthesis. Tr. 368. Dr. Dinkins diagnosed Type II diabetes mellitus (controlled), hyperlipidemia, hypokalemia, depressive disorder (nos), migraine, hypertension, asthma, GERD, degenerative joint disease, osteoarthrosis in the lower leg, lumbosacral spondylosis, lumbosacral disk degeneration, stenosis of the lumbar spine, and bursitis of the hip. He recommended an MRI, home therapy, and increased activities as tolerated. Tr.365. An MRI conducted in October 2010 revealed mild degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine with mild disk space and bilateral foraminal stenosis. Tr. 512, 514. A November 2010 MRI of the left knee revealed degenerative joint disease with a lateral meniscus tear. Tr. 380, 508, 510. During a follow-up office visit with Dr. Dinkins in November 2010, Plaintiff continued to complain of discomfort and pain in the lumbar spine and knees. Tr. 512. On clinical examination, straight leg raising was negative and reflexes were equal and symmetric. There was difficulty with heel and toe walking. Grip strength was 5/5. Id. In December 2010, Dr. Dinkins again noted negative straight leg raising, equal and symmetric reflexes, and grip strength of 5/5. Tr. 508. X-rays of the lumbar spine and left hip taken following a fall in October 2011 were normal. Tr. 501, 502. X-rays of the thoracic spine show mild dextroconvex curvature. Tr. 503.

         Julie A. Perrigin, M.D., who has been Plaintiff's primary care physician for “several years, ” Tr. 518, rendered diagnoses of depression, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, asthma, bilateral carpel tunnel release, GERD, and headaches. Tr. 468, 470. Findings ...

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