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Stargen v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

May 15, 2018




         Plaintiff Tina Lasheil Stargen (“Stargen”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Doc. 1. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of the parties. Doc. 14.

         For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History

         Stargen filed for SSI in January 2001, and was awarded benefits effective January 1, 2001. Tr. 147. She was found disabled because she met the listing for affective disorders. Tr. 180, 287. In 2013, the Agency's Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit (“CDIU”) began investigating Stargen. Tr. 180. On December 11, 2013, the Agency notified Stargen that it was revising its original 2001 finding and was now finding that she was not disabled. Tr. 147, 187. Stargen appealed but her appeal was denied. Tr. 196, 198, 203. Stargen requested an administrative hearing and a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Charles Shinn on April 26, 2016. Tr. 1098-1130. In his May 27, 2016, decision (Tr. 147-170), the ALJ determined that, prior to January 1, 2010, Stargen did not have a medically determinable impairment (Tr. 150), and that, as of January 1, 2010, Stargen did have medically determinable impairments that were severe (Tr. 155). The ALJ concluded that there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that Stargen could perform, i.e. she is not disabled. Tr. 169. Stargen requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 142) and, on March 17, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 7-10.

         II. Evidence

         A. Personal and Vocational Evidence

         Stargen was born in 1967 and was 33 years old on the date her application was filed. Tr. 169. She graduated from high school and has no past relevant work. Tr. 1108.

         B. Relevant Medical Evidence

         Stargen was treated by her primary care physician, Jean Dib, M.D., from January 2010 through January 2015, for, among other things, diabetes mellitus and asthma. See, e.g., Tr. 420, 621. She had a severe exacerbation of asthma in December 2010 (Tr. 406) after a sinus infection (Tr. 407) and Dr. Dib changed her asthma medication (Tr. 406), which resolved her symptoms (Tr. 405).

         In March 2011 she saw Dr. Dib for clearance prior to a scheduled knee surgery. Tr. 403. Dr. Dib stated that Stargen had obstructive sleep apnea and a history of COPD and asthma, and that she did not take her medications. Tr. 403. Nor did she or had she used her CPAP machine. Tr. 403, 412.

         On May 3, 2011, Stargen had left knee replacement surgery. Tr. 400. On May 23, Stargen told Dr. Dib that she had developed left knee pain a week prior. Tr. 399. Dr. Dib observed that she had refused antibiotics while in the hospital. Tr. 399. He advised that she use her cane or walker and he gave her Percocet. Tr. 399.

         In August 2011, Stargen complained to Dr. Dib of lower back pain radiating to her left leg. Tr. 396. He ordered an MRI, which showed mild facet arthritis in Stargen's lower lumbar spine with no disc bulge, no canal stenosis, and no foraminal narrowing. Tr. 341. Stargen asked Dr. Dib for a prescription for a cane, which he provided. Tr. 395.

         Stargen did not complain of any knee pain in her October 17, 2011, appointment with Dr. Dib, but did complain of “severe pain in the right hip area mainly when she stands on it.” Tr. 393. Upon exam, she had clear lungs, no joint, bone or muscle tenderness, no edema, and some tenderness in her right foot. Tr. 393. On October 19, 2011, Stargen's orthopedist Thomas A. Krupko, M.D., remarked that her left knee was doing great. Tr. 459. Stargen reported pain in her right knee, and Dr. Krupko advised that she lose weight and exercise to improve it. Tr. 459.

         On April 25, 2012, Dr. Dib observed that Stargen's asthma was under good control with medication, her diabetes appeared to be stable with current management, and her other medical problems were stable. Tr. 389.

         On June 28, 2012, Stargen saw Dr. Dib reporting right knee pain after she bumped it when she almost fell down from a roller coaster the day before when she was at a water park. Tr. 388.

         On January 24, 2014, Stargen complained of anxiety after she lost all of her medications in a house fire. Tr. 656. Dr. Dib started her on Xanax. Tr. 656.

         On March 17, 2014, Stargen started treating with pulmonologist Abdul Basit, M.D. Tr. 522. She stated that she had shortness of breath while she had been in New Orleans and also reported fatigue. Tr. 522. Dr. Basit observed that she had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea but had not used her CPAP machine for two years. Tr. 522. Upon exam, she had normal findings: her lungs were clear to auscultation, she had no rhonchi with inspiratory breathing, no clubbing, cyanosis, or edema in her extremities, intact sensation, and normal motor strength. Tr. 524.

         On June 2, 2014, Stargen saw Dr. Dib and complained of severe depression which was getting worse. Tr. 637. He started her on Zoloft. Tr. 637.

         On January 19, 2015, Stargen saw Dr. Dib stating that she had had anxiety attacks. Tr. 621. He started her on Celexa. Tr. 621.

         On December 21, 2015, Stargen went to the Alliance Community Hospital complaining of fever, chills, cough, congestion, and body aches. Tr. 806. Upon exam, she was in no respiratory distress and had no accessory muscle use or wheezing. Tr. 806. She had normal, non-tender range of motion in her extremities and normal gait, strength, and sensation. Tr. 806-807. She was oriented, calm, and had a normal affect. Tr. 807. She was discharged home stable with bronchitis and asthma. Tr. 808.

         C. Relevant Medical Opinion Evidence

          1. Treating Source Opinion

         On February 18, 2016, Dr. Dib completed forms on behalf of Stargen. Tr. 797. Dr. Dib opined that, due to her severe, persistent asthma, which caused coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, and her obstructive pulmonary disease, Stargen could only stand or sit for 15 minutes, could occasionally lift and carry 5 pounds, could rarely lift 10 pounds, could work no hours per day, would need to lie down less than one hour a day, and would need to elevate her legs. Tr. 797-800, 802.

         2. Consultative Examiner Drs. Lyall and Harvan

         Dr. Lyall: On March 12, 2001, Stargen saw James M. Lyall, Ph.D., for a psychological consultative examination in connection with her initial disability application. Tr. 319-322. Stargen reported audio and visual hallucinations and depression. Tr. 320. Throughout most of the assessment, Stargen sat and stared into space and the examiner's questions had to be repeated to her a number of times. Tr. 320, 322. She reported that she had no friends and spent her time with her imaginary friend, Donald, who talked to her constantly. Tr. 320. She also sang and danced with Donald. Tr. 320. Her husband's mother comes to her house to do the cooking and cleaning because when Stargen tries to cook “it just burns up.” Tr. 320. She could not identify even one letter of the alphabet. Tr. 321. Her husband, who brought her to the exam and was also on SSI disability, stated that he was going to divorce her because she ...

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