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Forester v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

October 23, 2017

PATTY JANE FORESTER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY A. JOLSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Patty Jane Forester, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons that follow, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's Statement of Errors and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on May 14, 2013, alleging disability beginning on the same date. (Tr. 14, PAGEID #: 103). Plaintiff requested a hearing after her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.). Administrative Law Judge William Spalo (the “ALJ”) held a video hearing on August 17, 2015. (Id.). On October 7, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 26, PAGEID #: 115).

         Plaintiff filed this case on December 9, 2016 (Doc. 1), and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on February 17, 2017 (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Errors on March 30, 2017 (Doc. 10), the Commissioner responded on May 15, 2017 (Doc. 13), and Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief on May 25, 2017 (Doc. 14).

         This case presents a narrow issue for consideration. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision must be reversed because he improperly found Plaintiff capable of performing light work despite evidence that she medically requires the use of a cane. With that narrow issue in mind, the Court examines the relevant hearing testimony, factual and medical background, and the ALJ's decision.

         A. Hearing Testimony

         During the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she has been using a cane to walk since 2008. (Tr. 56, PAGEID #: 145). Plaintiff stated that she did not have the cane with her at the hearing, however, because it was stolen. (Id.). Plaintiff explained that she wears braces on both knees, holds onto things to walk, but she still trips often. (Tr. 56-57, PAGEID #: 145-46).

         B. Factual and Medical Background

         Plaintiff was born on May 7, 1962 and has a high school education. (Tr. 38, PAGEID #: 127). Plaintiff suffers from obesity, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lumbar strain, gout, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 17, PAGEID #: 106).

         At least three medical opinions reflect that Plaintiff does not require a cane to ambulate. Specifically, medical consultant Dr. Sushil Sethi examined Plaintiff on August 27, 2013, and noted, inter alia, that Plaintiff could “walk on tiptoes and heels and can squat.” (Tr. 482-83, PAGEID #: 576-77). Dr. Sethi also observed that Plaintiff was “not using any ambulatory aids” and displayed a normal gait. (Tr. 483, PAGEID #: 577). Similarly, the state agency reviewing physicians did not view Plaintiff as requiring a cane to ambulate and opined that she is capable of performing a limited range of light work. (Tr. 140, PAGEID #: 230; Tr. 153, PAGEID #: 243).

         In contrast, two medical opinions refer to Plaintiff's use of a cane. On January 10, 2014, Dr. David Klein examined Plaintiff two days after she experienced a “twisting injury.” (Tr. 519, PAGEID #: 613). Under “[d]iagnosis and associated orders for this visit, ” Dr. Klein ordered “[w]eight bearing as tolerated” and “cont use of cane.” (Tr. 521, PAGEID #: 615). Dr. Sarah Scalley of Sunrise Vision Clinic commented on Plaintiff's use of a cane during an exam on April 2, 2014. (Tr. 628, PAGEID #: 723). Under “spectacle plan, ” Dr. Scalley noted that she advised Plaintiff of “issues with bifocal and vision” particularly due to her “having a cane for walking.” (Id.). Although Dr. Scalley discussed with Plaintiff the option of having separate “distance glasses” and “near glasses, ” Plaintiff chose bifocals. (Id.).

         C. Relevant Portions of the ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 14, 2013, the application date, and has the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lumbar strain, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 17, PAGEID #: 106). The ALJ likewise found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal a listed impairment and has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b). (Tr. 18-19, PAGEID #: 107-108). However, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff should not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, crawl, kneel, crouch, stoop, and ...


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