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Turner v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

July 24, 2018


          Thomas M. Rose District Judge


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff Jennifer Turner's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. She brings the present case challenging those denials and asserting she is under a work-precluding disability due to pain in many areas of her body-mainly in her feet, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, hands, back, and neck. Her challenges focus on the decision by Social Security Administrative Law Judge Mark Hockensmith who found that she was not under a disability because, in large part, she could still perform a limited range of sedentary work with some limitations. Plaintiff contends that ALJ Hockensmith failed to properly evaluate her pain and the opinions of various physicians.

         Plaintiff was forty years old-a “younger” person-on the date she alleges she became disabled (April 19, 2012). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). She has at least a high-school education, and she worked over the years as a home health attendant.

         During a hearing held by ALJ Hockensmith, Plaintiff's counsel explained that Plaintiff had been diagnosed at age sixteen with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Counsel pointed out that the state agency's initial review of Plaintiff's record found her limited to sedentary work with additional limitations on her ability to use her hands.

         Plaintiff testified during the hearing that she is married and has one minor-age child and two adult-age children. She is five feet tall and weighed 293 pounds. She has difficulty climbing and descending stairs because her knees feel like they want to give out, and they “pop.” (Doc. #6, PageID #94). Her last work, as a home health attendant, ended in June 2014 because she could no longer get on her knees as her job duties required. She could not scrub a bathtub and had trouble helping people into the bathtub. She could not take the trash out of one man's home because it required climbing a steep hill. She could not get up the hill due to pain; “it was hurting so bad, ” she noted. Id. at 97. After working during the day, she would swell up, particularly if she had done a lot of cleaning. Her pain felt worse in her shoulders, hands, feet, and legs than other areas of her body. She has pain each day always at the level of eight on a one to ten scale. She also gets very swollen. Describing her swelling, she said, “I feel like I have elephant feet.” Id. at 100.

         Plaintiff also told the ALJ, “Once I get up and start moving, the pain-that pain does not stop [for] at least a good three or four hours….” Id. Her pain in the morning is in her feet and ankles, and she cannot bend her feet. The pain in her ankles and feet continues throughout the day. Id. at 102. Plaintiff has back pain that never goes away. Her hands are swelled in the morning, and she cannot do much with them until the swelling goes down. But, even just holding a phone will cause them to swell again. Id. at 102. She also explained, “I don't think there is anything I can't do with my hands, but I … cannot do it for long periods of time.” Id. at 103.

         Plaintiff's shoulders are always sore and she cannot touch them. When she uses her arms a lot during the day, “they will burn.” Id. at 101. “It's like a sting, ” she says, and she can't raise her arms above her head. Id.

         Things she manages to do around the house include washing dishes and light housecleaning, as long as she takes breaks because the work requires standing. Her daughter helps with housework. Plaintiff cannot wash pans-they are too heavy for her hands to tolerate. She is able to vacuum two rooms, but it causes her a lot of shoulder pain-a “stinging, burning pain.” Id. at 104.

         Plaintiff experiences bad days and good days. During a bad day, she will sometimes go to bed because her arms hurt so bad. Her ankles sting and burn and feel feels like they're just going to break” with every step she takes. Id. at 109. Bad days happen four days per week. On a good day, her pain level would be in the five range all day. Id. Her treating rheumatologist Dr. Candice Flaugher told her to get a cane because she had fallen a couple of times when her knees and ankles gave out. Dr. Flaugher told her to use the cane on days when her ankles feel weak. Dr. Flaugher also instructed her to take the cane with her when she was going to a place that might have steps. Id. at 113.

         Plaintiff explained that she has experienced her problems with pain since age sixteen and it was just getting worse, particularly her shoulders, hand, feet, and ankles. Id. at 111-12.

         The parties rely on the ALJ's factual summary, highlighting the particular evidence that is presently at issue. Those highlights, in part, reveal the following about Plaintiff's medical records.

         Dr. Flaugher's treatment records document that Plaintiff had severe and persistent pain throughout her body. Examination revealed small Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes on Plaintiff's right and left hands. Id. at 381, 386, 530, 535. She had these nodes on March 18, 2013 when Dr. Flaugher also observed “normal range of motion, muscle strength, and stability in all extremities with not pain on inspection.” Id. at 386, 535. Such nodes result from osteoarthritis and/or degenerative joint disease. See Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary at 268, 904 (19th ed. 2001). Plaintiff also had positive crepitus, a cracking sound, in both her knees. See id. at 482.

         In July 2014, Dr. Omita Oza examined Plaintiff at at the request of the state agency. (Doc. #6, PageID #s 451-57). Upon physical examination, Dr. Oza observed that Turner's fingers were somewhat swollen, but no discrete synovitis. The range of motion in Plaintiff's hips, shoulders, and knees was reduced because of her size (on that day, she measured five feet tall and weighed 290 pounds). Id. at 455-56. She displayed full range of motion in her wrists and elbows. Dr. Oza found “very minimal tenderness on palpation of lower spine.” Id. Plaintiff had flatfeet but walked without favoring any particular lower extremity. Id. Dr. Oza diagnosed osteoarthritis secondary to obesity and history of seronegative polyarthropathy. Id. And, based on the examination, Dr. Oza opined that Plaintiff's “physical examination is ...

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