United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JOY D. CURRINGTON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Docs. 18 & 20 ("In accordance with provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, ... order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.").) Upon consideration of the administrative record, plaintiff's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and the arguments of counsel at the February 4, 2015 hearing before the Court, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.
Plaintiff alleges disability due to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, peripheral edema, peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, morbid obesity, and borderline intellectual functioning. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 12, 2009, 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 of the lumbar spine, peripheral edema, peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, morbid obesity, and borderline intellectual functioning. (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 less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). She can frequently lift and carry up to 10 pounds. She can sit for one hour at one time before needing a change of position of at least five minutes before returning to the sitting position, she can stand or walk for approximately 30 minutes at one time before needing to sit for at least five minutes before returning to either standing or walking, and work could continue through the position change. During regularly scheduled breaks and lunch, she needs to elevate her legs to at least as high as chair height or straight out using a chair or box, but not specialized medical equipment, to prop up the legs. She can occasionally push and pull leg controls and frequently push and pull arm controls. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, balance, and climb ramps and stairs. She cannot climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolding; work at unprotected heights; work around dangerous machinery; or operate automotive equipment. She can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. She can occasionally interact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors. She can occasionally adapt to changes in the work setting. She can maintain attention and concentration for up to two hours at a time.
As for the claimant's physical impairments, she was treated in October 2008, October 2009, and November 2010 at Providence Family Physician[s], where she was diagnosed with hypertension and obesity and prescribed clonidine. The minimal treatment notes indicate that the clonidine helped to control her blood pressure, and her other examination findings were essentially normal. In November 2011, she underwent a consultative examination performed by Dr. Sherman. She complained of lower back pain, swelling in her legs and feet, and shortness of breath with lots of activity. Examination findings indicated the presence of hypertension and obesity. The examination revealed she had a full range of motion in all her extremities and her back, despite her complaints of pain in her back on full extension and full flexion. Though her back had lost some of its lordotic curve due to her obesity, it was devoid of spasm or deformity. The other examination findings were all essentially normal, including gait, station, ability to squat without difficulty, ability to heel-to-toe walk, motor skills, negative atrophy, seated leg raise results, and intact gross and fine manipulation. Dr. Sherman diagnosed the claimant with morbid obesity, low back pain caused by her obesity, hypertension, peripheral edema caused by her hypertension, constipation, and a limited education/slow learner.
From December 2011 to February 2013, the claimant was treated at Victory Health Center for various complaints and follow-ups. In December 2011, she presented with complaints of high blood pressure, and treatment notes indicated she was not regularly checking her blood pressure, had no regular exercise program, and had no diet. An examination revealed hypertension and obesity, but otherwise normal results, and the claimant was diagnosed with hypertension, pedal edema, and morbid obesity. In January 2012, the claimant presented for follow-up treatment and the examination revealed obesity and high normal blood pressure but otherwise produced essentially normal findings. The claimant was diagnosed with morbid obesity, multiple joint pains, and hypertension. In February 2012, she presented with complaints of swelling, shortness of breath, and hypertension. An examination produced findings of obesity and hypertension, but was otherwise normal. She was diagnosed with hypertension, constipation, and morbid obesity. A March 2012 follow-up examination was accompanied by complaints of some numbness and pain; an examination again produced findings of obesity and hypertension, but was normal otherwise, and the claimant was diagnosed with hypertension. In July 2012, the claimant complained of tingling in her hands, and an examination produced findings of obesity and hypertension, but was relatively normal otherwise. The claimant was diagnosed with morbid obesity, hypertension, and carpal tunnel syndrome. A December 2012 treatment found the claimant complaining that her right arm was stiff and her knee was "locking up." An examination revealed obesity, hypertension, degenerative changes in her left knee, and bilateral crepitus in her knees, but it was essentially normal for other systems. She was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease of her "knees, " neuropathy, hypertension, and morbid obesity. The notes indicate that Lyrica was not ordered for her neuropathy. In February 2013, the claimant complained of chronic low back pain. An examination revealed obesity, hypertension, degenerative changes in the claimant's lumbar spine due to her obesity, and only mild degenerative changes in the claimant[s] cervical spine. Other systems were normal. The claimant was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease of her lumbar spine, hypertension, morbid obesity, and neuropathy.
The objective findings and the claimant's admitted abilities and activities do not support the allegations she is disabled by her degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, peripheral edema, peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, or morbid obesity, of a combination thereof. Despite complaints, diagnoses, and treatment, the claimant's myriad of examination findings throughout the record were essentially normal. The "non-normal" examination findings revolved primarily around the claimant's hypertension and obesity, of which the hypertension was admittedly "helped" by medication, and her obesity, which involved the claimant's refusal to follow doctors' recommendations to lose weight. The recent diagnoses of degenerative joint disease of her ...