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Sanders v. Colvin

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

January 11, 2017

CHARLEE SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. CASSADY UNITED STATES 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. (Doc. 18 (“In accordance with the 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.”); see also Doc. 19 (endorsed order of reference).) Upon consideration of the administrative record, plaintiff's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and the arguments of counsel at the December 5, 2016 hearing before the Court, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus (type II), hypertension, and obesity. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 7, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus type II, hypertension, and obesity (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) except she needs a sit/stand option that allows only 4 hours standing and 4 hours sitting in a workday. She can do no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can [perform] occasional climbing [of] stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; and is limited to no more than frequent handling and fingering.
In making this finding, the undersigned has considered all symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence, based on the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1529 and 416.929 and SSRs 96-4p and 96-7p. The undersigned has also considered opinion evidence in accordance with the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1527 and 416.927 and SSRs 96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p and 06-3p.
. . .
After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms to some degree; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this decision.
In terms of the claimant's alleged rheumatoid arthritis, the medical evidence simply does not confirm the severity of symptoms that the claimant has alleged. Although she has certainly had some tenderness of her joints on physical examinations, she has had no significant synovitis of the joints, she has no edema of the extremities, she has no significant loss of motion of any joints, she has normal motor strength in the upper and lower extremities, and she has a normal gait. Exhibit 10F, p. 4 also indicates that while the claimant's fatigue is likely related to rheumatoid arthritis, her doctor noted that she had just had a baby by cesarean section one month earlier that could also result in fatigue with a one-month old at home. At her last documented visit in January 2014, the claimant actually denied having any limitation of activities, limping, morning stiffness, or weakness and she admitted that her pain was aggravated by rest and relieved by activity. The claimant's pain and other symptoms also seem to have improved with medications. In fact, the claimant admitted at Exhibit 10F, p. 4 that her knee pain had resolved entirely with her current medications and Exhibit 15F, p. 2 shows she denied any joint stiffness, weakness, limping or activity limitations. It is also significant to note that the claimant's own doctor noted at Exhibit 12F that while the claimant would have some increase of symptoms with physical activity, it would not be to such extent as to prevent adequate functioning in such tasks (i.e., walking, standing, bending, stooping, moving extremities, etc.).
The claimant also suffers from diabetes and hypertension, but these conditions seem to have improved since the claimant had her baby in 2013. In July 2013, her blood pressure was controlled at 115/79, in December 2013, it was 126/84, and at her last documented medical visit in January 2014, it was 138/96. As for her blood sugars, the claimant admitted that she has come off insulin and is only taking oral medications and her doctor noted at Exhibit 14F, p. 5 that her diabetes mellitus was “uncomplicated” with an A1C that was in the low normal range. The claimant has also required no emergency room visits or inpatient hospitalizations due to a diabetic or hypertensive crisis and she has suffered no end organ damage to date due to either condition.
The claimant is also morbidly obese. The undersigned has therefore considered Social Security Ruling 02-01p involving evaluation of obesity. This ruling observes that obesity can cause limitation of function and that an individual may have limitations in any of the exertional functions such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. Obesity also may affect ability to do postural functions, such as climbing, balance[ing], stooping, and crouching.
The ability to manipulate may be affected by the presence of adipose (fatty) tissue in the hands and fingers. The ability to tolerate extreme heat, humidity, or hazards may also be affected.
. . .
The combined effects of obesity with other impairments may be greater than might be expected without obesity. For example, someone with obesity and arthritis affecting a weight-bearing joint may have more pain and limitation than might be expected from the arthritis alone. With regard to the claimant's weight, the undersigned is of the opinion that it contributes to her limitations in performing more than light work, climbing, kneeling, crawling, stooping, and crouching.
The undersigned also notes that despite her rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and obesity, the claimant performs a wide range of daily activities, including taking care of a small child, taking her older kids to and from school, washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking, driving, shopping, visiting, and going to Bible study and church on a regular basis. Her pain and other symptoms do not appear to interfere with attention and concentration, as she handles her own finances, reads, watches ...

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