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Trussell v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

August 22, 2014

REGINA TRUSSELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HARWELL G. DAVIS, III, Magistrate Judge.

In this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling which denied claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB). (Doc. 1). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of 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. (Doc. 6). Upon consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed and this action dismissed.

I. Proceedings Below

Plaintiff, Regina Trussell, filed an application for a period of disability insurance benefits on December 1, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on December 5, 2008. (Tr. 67, 134-35). Her claim was initially denied and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 68-73, 75). Following that hearing (Tr. 35-58), the ALJ issued a decision on July 16, 2012, finding that plaintiff was not disabled from December 5, 2008, through June 30, 2011, the date for which she was last insured for DIB. (Tr. 19-31). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6, 17). The Commissioner's decision is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

II. ALJ Decision

Disability under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). "Substantial work activity" is work that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). "Gainful work activity" is work that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or a combination of medical impairments that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may not claim disability. Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. If such criteria are met, the claimant is declared disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ still may find disability under the next two steps of the analysis. The ALJ first must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which refers to the claimant's ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is determined to be capable of performing past relevant work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id. If the ALJ finds that the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). In the last part of the analysis, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to perform any other work commensurate with his RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the ALJ to prove the existence in significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can do given the RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 404.1560(c).

The ALJ strictly followed this protocol in evaluating plaintiff's allegations of disability. The ALJ found that plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2011. She did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of December 5, 2008, through her date of last insured, June 30, 2011. Through the date last insured, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, arthritis, cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post left rotator cuff surgery with impingement, carpal tunnel syndrome, mitral valve prolapse, diabetes mellitus, depression, anxiety, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 20).

In support of this finding, the ALJ noted that, on January 31, 2011, State agency physician M. Tosi Gilford, M.D., specifically endorsed obesity, cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post left rotator cuff surgery with impingement, and carpal tunnel syndrome as confirmed severe impairments. (Tr. 25, citing Ex. 10F). The ALJ noted that treatment records from Maude Whatley Health Services submitted after January 31, 2011, confirm plaintiff's mitral valve prolapse, arthritis and developing diabetes mellitus as additional severe physical impairments, as well as plaintiff's treatment for depression and anxiety. ( Id., citing Exs. 8F and 9F). Finally, the ALJ noted that Dr. Alan D. Blotcky, Ph.D., a psychologist, examined plaintiff at the request of plaintiff's representative and determined that her intellectual functioning was at the borderline intellectual level. ( Id., citing Ex. 7F).

Plaintiff also was examined by Dr. Samia S. Moizuddin, M.D., on January 25, 2011. According to Dr. Moizuddin, plaintiff is five feet four inches tall and weighed 225 pounds. He assigned a body mass index (BMI) score of 39. The ALJ found that this impairment has more than minimal impact on plaintiff's ability to engage in work related activities and is, therefore, severe. ( Id. ).

According to the ALJ, plaintiff has a medically documented history of the following impairments: bipolar disorder, bronchitis, allergies, asthma, hypertension, and tobacco abuse. Dr. Gilford found that, though poorly controlled, there was no end-organ damage or complications related to the plaintiff's hypertension. Therefore, it was not severe. (Tr. 25, citing Ex. 10F). The ALJ stated that plaintiff has not alleged any substantial limitations due to these conditions. Therefore, he concluded that they were non-severe. ( Id., citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512 and 416.921).

The ALJ also noted that plaintiff also alleged, or the medical record indicates a history of or complaints for rheumatoid arthritis. However, plaintiff has not alleged any substantial limitations due to this condition and there is no documented diagnosis of an underlying impairment for this complaint. Consultative examiner Dr. Moizuddin's review of plaintiff's bodily systems returned no finding of rheumatoid arthritis. ( Id., citing Ex. 1F). Dr. Gilford also noted that there was no confirmed medically determinable impairment of rheumatoid arthritis in his review of plaintiff's medical records. ( Id., citing Ex. 10F).

The ALJ also determined that, through the date last insured, plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the impairments included in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (Tr. 26). Plaintiff has not contested this finding.

In considering plaintiff's mental impairments under Step Three, the ALJ found that they did not meet or medically equal the criteria of §§ 12.04, 12.05 or 12.06. He specifically considered whether the "paragraph B" criteria were satisfied. To satisfy "paragraph B" criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and repeated ...


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