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Cowart v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 24, 2014

DENA J. COWART, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Commissioner, Defendant.


BERT W. MILLING, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

In this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling which denied claims for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income (hereinafter SSI ) (Docs. 1, 10). The parties filed written consent and this action has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 ( see Doc. 18). Oral argument was waived in this action (Doc. 17). Upon consideration of the administrative record, the memoranda of the parties, and oral argument, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED.

This Court is not free to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983), which must be supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The substantial evidence test requires "that the decision under review be supported by evidence sufficient to justify a reasoning mind in accepting it; it is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 918 (11th Cir. 1984), quoting Jones v. Schweiker, 551 F.Supp. 205 (D. Md. 1982).

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty-five years old, had completed a two-year college education (Tr. 37), and had previous work experience in retail merchandising and had worked as a cashier, shift supervisor, and stocking supervisor (Tr. 59-60). In claiming benefits, Plaintiff alleges disability due to basilar-type migraine headaches, syncopal episodes, degenerative joint disease of the knees, status post arthroscopy of the right knee, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, morbid obesity, asthma, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine (Doc. 10, Fact Sheet).

The Plaintiff filed applications for disability benefits and SSI on August 19, 2010 and March 4, 2011, respectively (Tr. 129-30; see also Tr. 15). Benefits were denied following a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who determined that although she could not return to her past relevant work, Cowart was capable of performing specified sedentary jobs (Tr. 15-28). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision (Tr. 11) by the Appeals Council, but it was denied (Tr. 1-6).

Plaintiff claims that the opinion of the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Cowart alleges that: (1) The ALJ did not properly consider the conclusions of her treating physicians and (2) that there is no support for the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (hereinafter RFC ) (Doc. 10). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims (Doc. 13). The relevant evidence of record follows.

On July 14, 2009, Plaintiff was treated at the Mostellar Medical Center for an upper respiratory tract infection; she was diagnosed to have asthma, hypertension, and generalized anxiety (Tr. 267-68; see generally Tr. 255-75). On September 1, 2009, Cowart complained of bilateral knee pain after falling to her knees; range of motion (hereinafter ROM ) was limited secondary to pain (Tr. 264). X-rays showed degenerative changes in both knees, though there was no evidence of fracture or subluxation; Mobic[1] and Ultram[2] were prescribed for pain (Tr. 264, 274). Three weeks later, Cowart called and requested an orthopaedic referral; Darvocet[3] and Phenergan[4] were prescribed (Tr. 263). Plaintiff reported, at her October 6, 2009 examination, that she had seen Orthopaedist Freeman and that her medications were making her nauseated; noting no changes from the previous examination, her doctor prescribed Tylox[5] (Tr. 262).

On September 29, 2009, Dr. Milton Wallace, Jr., Orthopaedic Surgeon, examined Plaintiff for bilateral knee pain; he noted a small effusion and medial joint line tenderness (Tr. 313; see generally Tr. 306-15). X-rays showed medial joint compartment osteoarthritis and some patellofemoral arthritis; injections were given in both knees. A month later, Cowart complained that the injections lasted only two-to-three weeks and that she was willing to undergo arthroscopy of the left knee (Tr. 313). On November 13, 2009, Dr. Wallace noted decreasing pain over time as well as significant chondromalacia (Tr. 313-14). On November 20, the notes indicate that Cowart had had arthroscopy on the left knee ten days earlier;[6] on exam, MCL tenderness was noted for which Tylox was given (Tr. 314). On December 11, the Orthopaedist noted little swelling, no redness, and no fluctuant (Tr. 314).

On December 28, 2009, Cowart returned to Providence Rehabilitative Services for treatment of pain caused by prolonged walking, rendering squatting and prolonged sitting and standing difficult, all initiated by a fall two months earlier (Tr. 200-02, 221-23). Cowart indicated that she was presently pain-free. On January 5, 2010, Plaintiff walked with an abnormal gait, though she used no assistive device; a treatment plan was prepared (Tr. 200-02). A week later, Cowart cancelled her treatment (Tr. 203). Over the next month, Plaintiff attended six sessions that taught her to improve her ROM and strength, so that she could perform work-related activities (Tr. 204; see generally Tr. 204-20); Cowart indicated that there were times she did not perform the exercises at home because of left knee pain (Tr. 206, 212, 214). A J-Brace was ordered for her assistance (Tr. 209). Plaintiff also received an injection (Tr. 214). Treatment sessions were discontinued because Cowart quit going (Tr. 220).

On February 1, 2010, Wallace noted that Plaintiff was very tender over the left knee for which he gave her an injection (Tr. 314). On the nineteenth, Cowart complained of severe pain for which the Doctor had no explanation (Tr. 314). On March 19, Wallace gave Plaintiff an injection in the left knee and provided her a three-month disability parking pass (Tr. 314). On April 26, the Orthopod noted that x-rays demonstrated "complete obliteration of the medial joint space" in the right knee that would ultimately require total knee arthroplasty; Plaintiff received a Xylocaine shot (Tr. 312).

Mostellar Medical Center records demonstrate that although she had received injections four days earlier, Plaintiff, on May 3, 2010, reported continuing right knee pain and the ineffectiveness of her Ativan prescription; the doctor found her to be in no acute distress (Tr. 259). Chest x-rays were normal; the lungs were clear (Tr. 273).

On May 19, Orthopod Ben Freeman, partner to Dr. Wallace, noted tenderness and gave Plaintiff an injection (Tr. 309). On July 20, Wallace performed the arthroscopy of the right knee (Tr. 311). On August 16, 2010, Cowart still had some discomfort, but was doing better; Wallace prescribed Relafen[7] (Tr. 308). On the twenty-fifth, Plaintiff complained of swelling, but Dr. Freeman saw none, noting good ROM (Tr. 307). On October 5, Cowart complained of bilateral knee pain, following a fall; Orthopod Wallace noted some tenderness and gave her an injection (Tr. 306).

On December 17, Dr. James Devaney saw Plaintiff for a sinus infection, a urinary tract infection, and bad nerves; she was tested for and diagnosed to have Diabetes Mellitus and was treated for that and hypertension (Tr. 407-08). On January 26, 2011, Cowart had a vasogaval syncopal[8] episode (Tr. 401-02).

On February 15, 2011, Cowart went to Infirmary West Hospital with complaints of chest pain; x-rays were normal (Tr. 367; see generally Tr. 351-69). Ultram was ...

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