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Roberta D. Gibson v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 30, 2012

ROBERTA D. GIBSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, who is proceeding with retained counsel, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to the written consent of all parties, this case is before the undersigned as the presiding judge for all purposes, including entry of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 24) and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 25).

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff initially applied for social security benefits on April 25, 1994. She was found to be disabled based on an inflammatory arthritis impairment which met Listing 1.02 of the social security Listing of Impairments. Plaintiff's disability onset date was March 25, 1994. In an April 7, 2000, continuing review, the agency determined that plaintiff's disability had ceased as of April 2000 due to medical improvement. Her appeal from the termination of benefits was denied. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held on May 16, 2001. The termination of benefits was upheld and the Appeals Council denied any further agency review on June 26, 2002.

Plaintiff then filed the current application for benefits on August 12, 2002, alleging an onset date of August 30, 2001. Plaintiff claims that disability is caused by a combination of: "rheumatoid disease and/or arthritis; ankylosing spondylitis; spondyloarthropathy; Crohn's disease (with inflammatory bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and/or active ileitis and colitis); pain/numbness in extremities and joints; DeQuervain's tenosynovitis; tendinitis (left wrist) and/or residual effects of carpal tunnel syndrome surgeries; fibromyalgia; migraines and headaches; mental health disorders of depression, anxiety, and/or somatization (somataform disorder). . . ." Plaintiff's second claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on March 14, 2005. A vocational expert and medical expert both testified at the hearing. An unfavorable decision was rendered but, on appeal, the decision was vacated and the matter remanded. The Appeals Council's June 25, 2007, remand order directed: (1) re-assessment of plaintiff's condition in light of a revised date last insured; (2) further evaluation of the plaintiff's residual functional capacity; (3) if warranted, supplemental vocational expert testimony; and (4) consideration of the August 29, 2001, cessation decision.

A further hearing was held on June 19, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Jean Kingrey. Once again, a vocational expert offered testimony. In an August 20, 2008, decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled based on the following relevant findings:

1. The claimant has a combination of impairments that is severe, including: Crohn's disease and residuals of carpal tunnel syndrome surgical releases; the claimant also carries diagnoses of anklosing spondylitis (arthritis of the spine leading to lipping or fusion of the vertebrae), spondyloarthropathy (spinal joint problems), and fibromyalgia, each of which is not well supported by objective medical evidence; her asthma, anemia, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hypothyroidism are generally well-controlled by medication.

2. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed in the regulations.

3. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work except: carrying/lifting is limited to a maximum of 34 pounds on an occasional basis; bending, twisting, crouching, kneeling, crawling, walking, climbing stairs, climbing ladders, reaching above the shoulders, and pushing/pulling are limited to an occasional basis; use of the hand is not limited except in terms of lift/carry limitations; due to her Crohn's disorder, easy bathroom access is required; operation of hazardous machinery is precluded, based on the medications used by the claimant.

4. The claimant is able to perform past relevant work as a medical assistant.

7. The claimant is also capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

After the Appeals Council declined review on August 17, 2010, this appeal followed.

II. SUMMARY OF MEDICAL OPINION EVIDENCE

The certified administrative record ("CAR") contains the following relevant medical opinion evidence, summarized chronologically below:

July 14, 1994 -- Agency consultative doctor Minyard, M.D., provided a physical residual functional capacity assessment. The doctor opined that plaintiff can occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry 10 pounds. Dr. Minyard also opined that plaintiff could sit/stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff's push/pull ability was found unlimited. No postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations were noted.

January 6, 1995 -- Plaintiff's treating physician, Trudy Termini, M.D., submitted a "Medical Evaluation Interrogatory." Citing "attached medical records," the doctor opined that plaintiff can occasionally lift only two pounds and frequently lift only one pound. It was also opined that plaintiff could sit/stand/walk for only one hour in an eight-hour workday. Reaching, fingering, pushing, pulling, and handling were also found to be limited, though no degree of limitation was noted by the doctor. Dr. Termini opined that plaintiff should never climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl. Plaintiff was also found to have environmental restrictions to heights, temperature extremes, moving machinery, and humidity. Dr. Termini opined that plaintiff's impairments rendered her disabled as of March 23, 1994. The doctor opined that plaintiff's condition was expected to last indefinitely.

April 5, 2000 -- Agency consultative doctor Charles Spray, M.D., submitted a physical residual functional capacity assessment. The doctor opined that plaintiff could occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry 10 pounds. Plaintiff could sit/stand/walk for about six hours in an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff's push/pull ability was limited in the upper extremities. As for postural limitations, Dr. Spray opined that plaintiff should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and should only occasionally stoop. No manipulative limitations were noted except that plaintiff could only occasionally perform forceful grasping tasks. No visual, communicative, or environmental limitations were noted. The doctor offered the following summary:

This 36 yr old female was allowed as a Meets Listing 1.02, based on ALJ decision as per testimony given by Dr. Moorman at the hearing. At that time, the evidence shows cl does have some synovitis in her hands and swelling in her wrists. Current evidence shows cl's condition has medically improved. Although cl has some symptoms suggestive of carpal tunnel syndrome, her fine motor and strength is unimpaired. Current records do not indicate any objective evidence that would restrict cl's ability to walk or stand. Her gait is normal. Cl performed to 10.1 METS on a treadmill. As cl has demonstrated significant medical improvement since CPD, recommended a cessation of disability benefits."

July 24, 2000 -- Agency consultative doctor Sharon Johnson, M.D., submitted a physical residual functional capacity assessment. The doctor opined that plaintiff could occasionally lift/carry 10 pounds and frequently lift/carry less than that amount of weight. Plaintiff could sit/stand/walk for about six hours in an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff's push/pull ability was found to be unlimited. No postural, visual, communicative, manipulative, or environmental limitations were noted.

September 18, 2000 -- Agency consultative psychologist Robert Henry, Ph.D., submitted a psychiatric review technique form. The doctor found no restrictions in activities of daily living, no difficulties with maintaining social functioning, and no episodes of decompensation. Dr. Henry noted only ...


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