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Caler v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 1, 2015

Lori Ann Caler, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SHIVA V. HODGES, Magistrate Judge.

This appeal from a denial of social security benefits is before the court for a Report and Recommendation ("Report") pursuant to Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.). Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The two issues before the court are whether the Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and whether she applied the proper legal standards. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

I. Relevant Background

A. Procedural History

On February 16, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB in which she alleged her disability began on January 14, 2011. Tr. at 90-93. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. at 58-61, 63-64. On October 25, 2012, Plaintiff had a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Thomas F. Batson. Tr. at 21-53 (Hr'g Tr.). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 7, 2012, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. at 9-20. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. Tr. at 1-4. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision in a complaint filed on April 21, 2014. [ECF No. 1].

B. Plaintiff's Background and Medical History

1. Background

Plaintiff was 53 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. at 25. She completed the eighth grade. Id. Her past relevant work ("PRW") was as an assembler and a machine operator. Tr. at 131. She alleges she has been unable to work since January 14, 2011. Tr. at 31.

2. Medical History

Plaintiff presented to Rebecca M. Hopkins, M.D. ("Dr. Hopkins"), on January 14, 2011, and complained that she experienced pain in her left leg that radiated into her foot during periods of excessive walking. Tr. at 175. Dr. Hopkins observed Plaintiff to have stable vital signs, be in no acute distress, and have no tenderness to palpation in her left groin. Id. She noted that extension of Plaintiff's leg caused pain and that straight-leg raise was positive, but that Plaintiff's sensory exam, deep tendon reflexes, and pulses were normal. Id. She ordered x-rays of Plaintiff's hip and pelvis and prescribed Tylenol #3. Id. An x-ray of Plaintiff's left hip on January 17, 2011, revealed mild degenerative changes. Tr. at 176.

On January 21, 2011, Plaintiff complained to Dr. Hopkins of left hip pain. Tr. at 174. Dr. Hopkins explained to Plaintiff that her x-rays showed mild degenerative changes in her left hip. Id. Dr. Hopkins assessed osteoarthritis and prescribed Diclofenac 75 milligrams to be taken twice daily and Tylenol #3, to be taken every four to six hours for pain. Id.

Plaintiff visited Amir Agha, M.D. ("Dr. Agha"), on February 23, 2011. Tr. at 178. Dr. Agha observed Plaintiff to be 5'3" tall and to weigh 153 pounds. Tr. at 179. Dr. Agha noted degenerative changes in Plaintiff's hands, tenderness in her low back, mild to moderate decreased range of motion in her left hip, antalgic gait, limp, and degenerative changes in her knees. Id. Dr. Agha's examination indicated no abnormalities in Plaintiff's neck, elbows, shoulders, and right hip. Id. He indicated Plaintiff had normal range of motion in her back and no swelling. Id. Dr. Agha requested an MRI of Plaintiff's left hip to rule out avascular necrosis and instructed Plaintiff to stop smoking. Id.

Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Agha on March 8, 2011, for left hip pain. Tr. at 181. Dr. Agha indicated an MRI showed joint effusion, left greater than right, and suggested osteoarthritis. Tr. at 181. He indicated Plaintiff had mild pain on range-of-motion tests. Id.

On April 29, 2011, state agency physician Dale Van Slooten, M.D., completed a physical residual functional capacity evaluation in which he indicated Plaintiff was limited as follows: occasionally lifting and/or carrying 50 pounds; frequently lifting and/or carrying 25 pounds; standing and/or walking (with normal breaks) for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting (with normal breaks) for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and occasionally climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. Tr. at 182-89.

On July 29, 2011, state agency medical consultant Frank Ferrell, M.D., completed a physical residual functional capacity assessment in which he indicated Plaintiff had the following restrictions: occasionally lifting and/or carrying 20 pounds; frequently lifting and/or carrying 10 pounds; standing and/or walking (with normal breaks) for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting (with normal breaks) for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; occasionally climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and occasionally stooping and crawling. Tr. at 191-98.

C. The Administrative Proceedings

1. The Administrative Hearing

At the hearing on October 25, 2012, Plaintiff testified she stopped working at Clarion in 2010 because of arthritis in her hip. Tr. at 28. She indicated she had been sent home from work on three occasions because her leg gave out. Tr. at 31, 50.

Plaintiff testified she had pain in her left hip. Tr. at 30. She indicated she experienced low back pain once every week or two. Tr. at 36. She stated she had difficulty sitting and standing. Tr. at 32. She indicated she could sit for two hours on a good day and for 20 minutes on a bad day. Tr. at 33. She stated she could stand for five minutes and then return to a seated position. Id. She indicated she could walk for less than ten minutes at a time. Tr. at 43. Plaintiff stated she could lift five to ten pounds and was able to lift a laundry basket and a gallon of milk. Tr. at 48-49. She testified that she needed to lie down on bad days, which occurred two to three times per week. Tr. at 34-35. Plaintiff indicated that she could work for half of a day on a good day and a quarter of a day on a bad day. Id. She stated she had used a cane to walk for over a year, but that it was not prescribed by a physician. Tr. at 30. She testified she used the cane at all times, even when moving about her house. Tr. at 44. She stated her cane was sufficient and that she did not believe she needed a walker. Tr. at 44-45.

Plaintiff testified she was 5'4" and weighed 190 pounds. Tr. at 43-44. She indicated she had gained 50 pounds since she stopped working. Tr. at 44.

Plaintiff testified she was not receiving medical treatment because she did not have insurance. Tr. at 29, 35. When asked if she would have continued treatment if she had insurance, Plaintiff responded "possibly." Tr. at 29. Plaintiff testified she took Nyquil to sleep, but denied taking any other prescription or over-the-counter medications. Tr. at 45.

Plaintiff testified she awoke between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., let her dog outside, and returned to bed until around 9:00 a.m. Tr. at 37. She stated she watched television between 9:00 a.m. and lunchtime while reclined in a chair. Tr. at 37-38. She indicated she typically walked next door to her aunt's house to visit for an hour or so during the afternoon. Tr. at 38. She stated that she sat and watched television when she returned home. Id. Plaintiff testified she went to bed between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. and had difficulty sleeping. Tr. at 39-40.

Plaintiff testified she lived with her 76-year-old mother. Tr. at 40. She indicated her mother shopped for groceries and that she would not go with her mother because she was unable to walk through the store. Tr. at 40-41. She indicated she did not go out often because of difficulty walking. Tr. at 41. She stated she had a driver's license and drove around town. Tr. at 45-46. She indicated she swept and mopped the kitchen floor, but was unable to vacuum. Tr. at 47. Plaintiff stated she washed dishes, but did not cook. Tr. at 47-48. She indicated she did her laundry once a week. Tr. at 48.

Plaintiff testified she last worked on January 14, 2011. Tr. at 51. She indicated she subsequently drew unemployment compensation and continued to receive benefits. Id. She stated she searched for other work, but had no success because she did not have a GED and was unable to stand without using her cane. Tr. at 49. Plaintiff denied attempting to obtain services through the vocational rehabilitation department. Tr. at 51-52.

2. The ALJ's Findings

In his decision dated December 7, 2012, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 14, 2011, the alleged onset ...

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