United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
Magistrate Judge Newbern
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. TRAUGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the court in this Social Security action is Plaintiff
Cynthia Ann Hargis's motion for judgment on the
administrative record (Doc. No. 15), to which the
Commissioner of Social Security has responded (Doc. No. 16).
Hargis has filed a reply. (Doc. No. 17.) Upon consideration
of these filings and the administrative record (Doc. No. 11),
for the reasons given below, the court will DENY Hargis's
motion for judgment and AFFIRM the decision of the
Statement of the Case
filed applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act on October 5, 2009, alleging disability
onset as of September 15, 2008, due to severe depression and
spinal stenosis. (Tr. 235.)
Disability Determination Services denied Hargis's claims
upon initial review and again following her request for
reconsideration. Hargis subsequently requested de novo review
of her case by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ
heard the case on January 25, 2012, when Hargis appeared with
counsel and gave testimony. (Tr. 45-82.) A vocational expert
also testified. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ
took the matter under advisement until April 3, 2012, when
she issued a written decision finding Hargis not disabled.
decision contains 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 engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 15, 2008, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
Degenerative Disc Disease, lumbar spine; Degenerative Joint
Disease; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; Major
Depressive Disorder versus Bipolar Disorder; Obesity; Anxiety
Disorder; Borderline Personality Disorder; Polysubstance
Abuse, in remission (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), including the ability to lift
and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently,
sit for about six hours, stand for about six hours, and walk
for about six hours--each with normal breaks--during the
course of an eight-hour work day, except as follows: From a
mental perspective, the claimant is limited to jobs allowing
for the ability to understand short and simple instructions,
but she can appropriately interact with others, is able to
adapt to work-related change, and is able to make simple
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on September 18, 1958 and was 50
years old, which is defined as an individual closely
approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset
date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. 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 404.1569, 404.1569(a),
416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from September 15, 2008, through
the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and
(Tr. 16, 18-19, 22, 33-35.)
August 1, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Hargis's
request for review of the ALJ's decision, rendering that
decision final. (Tr. 1-3.) This civil action seeking review
was timely filed on October 4, 2013. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Review of the Record
following summary of the evidence is taken from Hargis's
motion for judgment on the record:
Plaintiff Cynthia Ann Hargis was born on September 18, 1958,
and was with[in] a week of 50 years old on her alleged
disability onset date, October 5, 2009. Tr. 34. As such, she
was an individual closely approaching advanced age under the
In January 2008, Ms. Hargis was treated by Dr. James Seeley
related to her back pain, as well as neck pain, arm pain and
leg pain. Tr. 1005, 1008. She also reported shortness of
breath, chest pain, cough, wheezes, nausea, vomiting,
tiredness, weakness, joint pain or swelling, numbness, and
dizziness, as well as a history of broken leg, knee surgery,
and dog bite to her hand. Id. X-rays of her lumbar
spine revealed lumbar spondylosis and facet arthropathy at
¶ 4-5 and L5-S1. Tr. 1007. She was also noted to have
decreased strength/tone/range of motion and positive straight
leg raise testing. Tr. 1006. Dr. Seeley also treated her
regarding pulmonary and/or respiratory difficulties, and
x-rays of her chest noted spondylosis of the thoracic spine.
Tr. 998. By June 2008, she continued to report persistent
back pain which was exacerbated by range of motion, and
objective examination again noted decreased
strength/tone/range of motion and positive straight leg raise
testing. Tr. 988-992.
An MRI of her lumbar spine from June 2008 revealed mild disc
desiccation at ¶ 4-5 with bilateral facet arthropathy at
¶ 4-5 and L5-S1, as well as mild right foraminal
stenosis at ¶ 4-5 and mild left foraminal stenosis at
¶ 5-S1. Tr. 286. She then underwent physical therapy for
her persistent back pain with radiation to her lower
extremities. Tr. 288-300. She reported pain rated as a five
out of ten at rest, increased to eight or nine at times,
worse with bending, sitting, standing, walking, or lying for
long periods, progressively worsening during the day, and
with varying lower extremity symptoms increased to moderately
severe at times. Tr. 298-299. Nonetheless, she continued to
suffer from persistent back pain and lower extremity symptoms
despite her treatment and physical therapy. Tr. 288- 300. She
was also advised on multiple occasions to avoid flexion (such
as bending, stooping and/or leaning forward). Id. An
MRI of her lumbar spine from December 2008 again revealed
facet joint arthropathy at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1, as well as
mild disc desiccation at ¶ 4-5. Tr. 285.
Dr. Seeley's treatment notes throughout this period also
show Ms. Hargis' persistent difficulties with her back
pain and lower extremity symptoms with decreased
strength/tone/range of motion and positive straight leg raise
testing despite treatment and medications. Tr. 962-986. These
treatment notes also show her diagnosis of lumbar
radiculopathy and disc displacement, and she was noted to
have limited range of motion of the thoracic spine with
tenderness, as well as bilateral rhonchi and wheezes in
February 2009. Id.; see Tr. 968.
X-rays of Ms. Hargis' thoracic spine from March 2009
revealed mild focal T8-9 spondylosis with a small bridging
osteophyte anteriorly and laterally. Tr. 973. X-rays of her
cervical spine from August 2009 revealed no specific
abnormality, although C6 and C7 were obscured. Tr. 972.
In [April] 2009, Ms. Hargis presented for a consultative
medical examination with Dr. Roy Johnson. Tr. 323-325. Dr.
Johnson's objective medical examination revealed
tenderness of the lumbar spine with significantly decreased
range of motion (and tearfulness), as well as decreased range
of motion of the shoulders and hips, with a short and guarded
gait and inability to squat and difficulty with tandem walk
and balance. Tr. 324-325. Dr. Johnson diagnosed her with low
back syndrome, decreased visual acuity, history of carpal
tunnel bilaterally, and depression. Tr. 325. He also assessed
her with limitations to lifting only 10 pounds occasionally,
and standing or walking only 4.5-5 hours total with normal
breaks. Tr. 325.
Ms. Hargis . . . presented to the emergency department in May
2009 related to her worsening back pain after being involved
in a motor vehicle accident. Tr. 938- 947. She reported low
back pain rated as an eight out of ten, as well as some left
arm pain. Tr. 945-946. X-rays revealed degenerative
subluxation of L5 on S1 related to advanced
facet arthropathy. Tr. 938 (emphasis [in original]).
Dr. James Moore reviewed the evidence in June 2009 and
provided an opinion regarding Ms. Hargis' capabilities
and limitations due to her impairments. Tr. 362-370. Dr.
Moore assessed her with limitations to light work with only
occasional climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, frequent
climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching or crawling, limited far acuity, and only frequent
bilateral handling and fingering due to diagnostic evidence
supporting carpal tunnel syndrome. Id.
Ms. Hargis presented for another consultative medical
examination at SSA's request in December 2009 with Dr.
Ashok Mehta. Tr. 371-382. Similar to Dr. Johnson, Dr.
Mehta's examination revealed significantly decreased
range of motion of the lumbar spine, as well as lumbar
tenderness and muscle spasm, decreased range of motion of the
lower extremities, and an unsteady, slow gait. Tr. 372,
374-375. Dr. Mehta also assessed Ms. Hargis with limitations
to lifting or carrying only 10 pounds occasionally (no
frequent lifting or carrying); sitting, standing and walking
a total of less than an eight-hour workday; occasional
climbing and balancing; and never stooping, kneeling,
crouching or crawling (among other limitations). Id.
Ms. Hargis underwent a consultative psychological examination
in January 2010 and was diagnosed with major depressive
disorder, moderate, and obsessive compulsive disorder,
mild-to-moderate. Tr. 386. She was further assessed with a
global assessment of functioning (GAF) score of 54,
indicating moderate symptoms, and assessed with moderate
impairment in maintaining persisten[ce] ...