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Carlisle v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division

March 26, 2015




Plaintiff, Wanda Jean Carlisle, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). After consideration of the record and for the reasons stated below, the court concludes this action is due to be affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff initially filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits in June 2011, alleging a disability onset date of November 19, 2008, due to diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart failure. (R. 120-134, 154).[1] After the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her applications, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on September 25, 2012. (R. 20). Following the hearing, the ALJ found plaintiff had the severe impairments of neuralgia of the right foot, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and obesity but did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments listed in or medically equivalent to one listed in the Listings of Impairments. (R. 23). The ALJ further found plaintiff was not under a disability at any time through the date of his decision. (R. 27). Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which “found no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision" and, therefore, denied plaintiffs request for review. (R. 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff then filed the appeal in this court on January 17, 2014, seeking reversal or remand of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1). On June 13, 2014, the parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 9).

II. Factual Background

At the time of the ALJ's decision, plaintiff was forty-seven years old. (R. 37; see R 26-27). Plaintiff did not complete high school and had prior work experience as a hospital cleaner and day worker. (R. 26, 37).

A. Plaintiffs Medical Records

On November 17, 2008, plaintiff was seen by Dr. Rolando Sanchez, M.D., at UAB. Dr. Sanchez's report documents plaintiffs then-recent admission to the hospital with acute hypertensive urgency. (R. 212). The records from that hospitalization note plaintiffs complaints of dizziness and headache. (R. 212). Dr. Sanchez recorded plaintiffs complaints of chest pain and primary diagnoses of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. (R. 212). Dr. Sanchez increased plaintiffs blood pressure medication, noted neuropathy from diabetes, and counseled plaintiff to eat better and exercise. (R. 213).

On May 20, 2011, plaintiff was admitted to St. Vincent's East complaining of foot pain. (R. 232, 235). Examination revealed a diabetic foot wound on plaintiffs right foot. (R. 229). On May 21, 2011, plaintiff underwent irrigation and debridgement surgery to treat the wound. (R. 237). Plaintiff had additional foot problems after stepping on a piece of glass in June 2011. (R. 243). She underwent surgery to drain this later foot wound on June 6, 2011. (R. 244). This wound was slow to heal, requiring several post-operative visits through July 2011. (R. 241-48).

On September 10, 2012, plaintiff established care at Birmingham Healthcare and was seen by Dr. Sarah Scheurich-Payne, M.D. (R. 265). Dr. Scheurich-Payne diagnosed plaintiff with diabetes mellitus, benign essential hypertension, and foot pain. (R. 266). On October 3, 2012, plaintiff returned to Birmingham Healthcare, where neuralgia was added to plaintiff's diagnoses. (R. 260).

B. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff testified she suffers from constant pain in both feet which radiates to her back. (R. 38, 43). At the time of the hearing, plaintiff's right foot pain was long-standing, but she testified to more recent pain in her left foot as well. (See R. 38). Plaintiff testified the surgery to her diabetic foot wound in May 2011 did not alleviate her pain, which she experienced daily and described as "needle-like." (R. 38, 43). Plaintiff testified she attempted to treat the pain by rubbing lotion on her leg. (R. 43). While she was originally prescribed Lortab, plaintiff testified she tried not to take it too often. (R. 44).

Plaintiff also testified she suffers from middle back pain and headaches. Plaintiff explained her back begins hurting when she leans over for too long. (R. 44). Regarding headaches, plaintiff stated she suffers from constant migraine headaches and that she had been experiencing them since she was a child. (R.44-45). Plaintiff could not remember the name of the medication she takes for migraines. (R. 45).

Plaintiff stated her typical day starts with getting up and eating breakfast. (R. 45). Plaintiff then "tr[ies] to do a little something around the house" but begins suffering from foot pain and tries to relax and avoid activity. (R. 45). Plaintiff estimated she could do housework for approximately three hours before foot pain would force her to get in bed and prop her feet up. (R. 46). From August 2011 until September 2012, plaintiff did not visit any doctors due to lack of insurance. (R. 48-49). However, plaintiff testified she continued to experience problems and attempted to treat her pain with over-the-counter medicines and rest. (R. 49-50). Plaintiff testified she had difficulty sitting for more than 10 or ...

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