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Dandridge v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division

August 12, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's decision denying plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner's decision.


Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff Ronnie Shane Dandridge ("Dandridge") filed an application for SSI and DIB on March 16, 2009, alleging disability beginning on August 11, 2006. The Social Security Agency denied Dandridge's claim initially and on reconsideration. Dandridge requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and ALJ Augustus C. Martin held a hearing on January 7, 2011. The ALJ issued a decision on January 14, 2011, finding Dandridge not disabled under the Social Security Act. Dandridge requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner.

On October 24, 2012, Dandridge filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on April 1, 2014, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Dandridge filed objections to the R&R on April 30, 2014 and the Commissioner responded to Dandridge's objections on May 16, 2014. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

B. Medical History

Dandridge was born on January 6, 1973 and was 33 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 49. He has an eleventh grade education and past relevant work experience as a sheet metal mechanic and construction worker. Tr. 51, 198. Dandridge first complained of back pain during a January 23, 2006 visit to Dr. Michael Smith, his family physician. Tr. 236. At that time, radiographic studies noted no abnormalities, id., although an x-ray showed a mild decreased disc height at L5-S1. Tr. 237.

On August 22, 2006, Dandridge returned to Dr. Smith complaining that he had a sharp pain in his back while doing some heavy lifting and that since then, he had been experiencing severe low back pain and stiffness. Tr. 235. Dr. Smith noted that Dandridge was able to ambulate without difficulty and diagnosed him with low back pain with associated muscle spasm. Id . Around that same time Dr. Smith performed an MRI, which showed disc desiccation and disc space narrowing at the L5-S1 level, with broad disc protrusion. Tr. 232.

Dandridge was referred by Dr. Smith to the Southeastern Spine Institute, where he was evaluated by Dr. Steven Poletti on September 13, 2006. Tr. 241. Dandridge told Dr. Poletti that he had back pain off and on since his early 20s and complained of pain in his low back, buttocks, hip and leg, with pain on his left side being greater than the right side. Id . Dr. Poletti diagnosed Dandridge with disc herniation left L5-S1, and noted that he did not consider Dandridge as a surgical candidate. Id . Dr. Poletti also gave Dandridge an epidural injection. Id . On the same day, Dr. Poletti completed a patient status report indicating that Dandridge "cannot work." Tr. 459.

On October 24, 2006, Dandridge returned to Dr. Poletti for a follow-up appointment. Tr. 238. Dr. Poletti noted that the epidural injection had "helped him, " although he was "far from 100%." Id . Dr. Poletti recommended "observation" of Dandridge's condition and noted that Dandridge should follow-up on an "as needed basis." Id.

On November 22, 2006, state agency physician Dr. Jean Smolka reviewed Dandridge's medical records and completed a residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment. Tr. 242-49. In her assessment, Dr. Smolka opined that Dandridge could: occasionally lift twenty pounds and frequently lift ten pounds; stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; and occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Id.

Seven months later, on June 18, 2007, Dr. Ifeanyi Nwaekwu performed a consultative examination. Tr. 250-53. Dandridge told Dr. Nwaekwu that he had a constant, dull pain at level five on a ten-point scale and that his symptoms become worse when standing for long periods of time. Tr. 250. On examination, Dr. Nwaekwu found Dandridge to not be in painful distress, as well as having normal muscle tone and reflexes and full strength in both his upper and lower extremities. Tr. 251. Dr. Nwaekwu noted that Dandridge had a normal gait, was able to get on and off the examination table without assistance, and ambulated without any assistive devices. Tr. 252. Dandridge was able to squat and get up without assistance, although there was some associated back pain. Id . An x-ray showed no significant change from his January 2006 x-ray. Id . Dr. Nwaekwu diagnosed Dandridge with lumbosacral spine disc herniation at L4-S1 with evidence of central disc herniation at L4-L5 and left-sided disc herniation at L5-S1. Id . Dr. Nwaekwu opined that Dandridge would be "unable to return ...

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