United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Anita Studdard Hunt (“Plaintiff”) brings this
action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”), seeking review of the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on this
court's review of the record and the briefs submitted by
the parties, the court finds that the decision of the
Commissioner is due to be affirmed.
filed her application for DIB on June 24, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of December 31, 2014. (R. 60-1). The
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied the
initial request for DIB on August 8, 2015. (R. 69-71).
Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (R. 83-4), and
ALJ Lisa M. Johnson held the hearing on June 22, 2017. (R.
34). In her decision dated October 4, 2017, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability within
the meaning of Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social
Security Act. (R. 28). As the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on May 17, 2018, which was
the final decision of the Commissioner (R. 1-3), the
Commissioner's decision is now a proper subject for this
court's appellate review.
Statement of Facts
who was born on December 25, 1965, was 49-years-old when she
filed her request for DIB and 51 at the time of the ALJ's
decision. (R. 20, 28, 59). Plaintiff received her GED in 1991
and held two different jobs over a fifteen-year period: an
assembly line worker from 2000 to 2002 and cashier/cook at a
gas station from 2005 to 2015. (R. 160). Plaintiff alleges,
and the ALJ found, that she suffers from morbid obesity,
sciatica, hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome,
osteoarthritis, neuropathy, and obstructive sleep apnea. (R.
medical record begins with a January 20, 2014 visit to
Shellie Gilbreath, NP-C, complaining of pain in her left
shoulder. (R. 277-78). During the physical exam, Gilbreath
found tenderness in the lower cervical spine resulting in
limited range of motion in the area. (R. 279). Gilbreath
prescribed a ten-day-amount of prednisone for Plaintiff's
shoulder joint pain and ordered Plaintiff to return to the
office if no improvement occurred. (R. 279). Plaintiff
returned to Gilbreath's office a month later, and despite
reviewing the past shoulder joint pain, Gilbreath only
assessed Plaintiff's bronchitis issue in the report. (R.
276-77). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff again sought respite
from shortness of breath and congestion. (R. 272). Once
again, despite reviewing shoulder joint pain, Gilbreath did
not create a plan for treatment related to that condition;
instead, Gilbreath prescribed more medication for bronchitis
and ordered three-weeks of medication for hypertensive
disorder. (R. 274).
April 4, 2014, Plaintiff returned with additional complaints,
including edema and abnormal weight gain. (R. 269-70). In her
assessment, Gilbreath found that Plaintiff suffered from
edema in the lower extremities and abnormal weight gain; as a
result, Gilbreath started Plaintiff on Lasix and potassium
chloride tablets for thirty days. (R. 272). Gilbreath
instructed Plaintiff to return to the office four days later
to monitor her weight and blood pressure (R. 272); however,
Plaintiff's next visit did not occur until April 30. (R.
267). Again, Gilbreath prescribed a month-supply medication
for Plaintiff's edema in addition to Adipex to treat her
abnormal weight gain. (R. 266).
after her June 9 visit for a prescription refill, Plaintiff
was in a motor vehicle accident. She sought treatment for
resulting neck and right shoulder pain, in addition to the
previous shoulder joint pain, during a July 1 visit to
Gilbreath. (R. 261, 264). After a physical exam that revealed
limited range of motion in the right shoulder, Gilbreath
ordered Plaintiff an MRI for her cervical spine and shoulder.
(R. 263). Gilbreath prescribed a thirty-day starter pack of
Gralise for Plaintiff's neuropathy. (R. 263). Three weeks
later, Plaintiff returned seeking treatment for her previous
ailments in addition to right elbow pain. (R. 258). Gilbreath
examined Plaintiff and found that the pain caused Plaintiff
moderate distress and limited her range of motion. (R. 260).
Moreover, the nurse practitioner prescribed further
medication for obesity. (R. 260).
underwent the two MRI exams on August 13, 2014. (R. 233). The
exams revealed that Plaintiff suffers from mild degenerative
disk disease in her neck and osteoarthritis in her right
shoulder. (R. 233-34). Following a reference from her visit
with Gilbreath on August 18 to discuss the MRI results (R.
255), Plaintiff saw Dr. Seth Spotinitz, who diagnosed
Plaintiff with moderate right carpal tunnel syndrome on
September 16, 2014. (R. 240, 281). Plaintiff returned to
Gilbreath in September and December 2014 without any new
diagnoses. Plaintiff's last visit to Gilbreath before she
applied for DIB occurred June 23, 2015. (R. 246). During
this visit, Gilbreath noted that Plaintiff gained 34 pounds
since her previous visit in September 2014. (R. 247). Also,
Plaintiff complained of back pain for the first time, and
Gilbreath prescribed both tramadol and prednisone to treat
the pain. (R. 248).
following day, Plaintiff filed for disability. (R. 59). She
visited Dr. Jimmy A. Oguntuyo for a disability medical
examination on August 20, 2015. (R. 311). After a review of
systems, physical exam, a “suboptimal” lower back
x-ray that showed no gross malalignment, and review of a
range of motion chart, Dr. Oguntuyo found that Plaintiff
suffered from morbid obesity, sciatica, carpal tunnel
syndrome, edema of the lower extremities, osteoarthritis,
neuropathy, sleep apnea, and hypertension. (R. 313-14).
Consequently, Dr. Oguntuyo found that Plaintiff “may
not be able to perform any meaningful work-related activities
that involve prolonged standing, sitting, walking, lifting,
carrying, [and] handling objects.” (R. 313). Also, Dr.
Oguntuyo wrote that Plaintiff may benefit from the use of a
walker for support, stability, and mobility; however, he did
not prescribe Plaintiff an assistive device. (R. 313).
Disability Determination Service also sent Plaintiff to Dr.
Anand Iyer for an examination that took place April 1, 2017.
(R. 327). After physical examination and a range of motion
determination, Dr. Iyer found a history of bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome and hypertension confirmed by records;
however, he did not confirm record support of Plaintiff's
history of neck pain, left shoulder pain, back pain, hip
pain, and left knee pain. (R. 329). Dr. Iyer did, however,
note that Plaintiff had “difficulty getting on and off
the exam table, ” “difficulty opposing her
digits, making a fist, squeezing my fingers, buttoning, and
buckling, ” abnormal gait, and inability to “walk
on heels and tiptoes.” (R. 328). Ultimately, Dr. Iyer
concluded that Plaintiff “may have some impairment of
functions involving sitting, standing, walking, climbing
steps, bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, reaching
overhead, handling, buttoning, buckling, and opening
jars.” (R. 329).
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” involves significant physical or mental
activities, and “gainful work activity” is work
that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572. If
the ALJ finds that the claimant engages in substantial
gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
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.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment
meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526. When the claimant meets these criteria, the ALJ