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Tomeoni v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 30, 2019



          James R. Knepp II, United States Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff Ralph Tomeoni (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) seeking review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). The district court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g). The parties consented to the undersigned's exercise of jurisdiction in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Civil Rule 73. (Doc. 12). For the reasons below, the undersigned affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed for DIB on January 14, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of September 7, 2014. (Tr. 250-51). His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 188-91, 204-06). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 15, 2015. (Tr. 211-12). Plaintiff (represented by counsel), and a vocational expert (“VE”), testified in front of the ALJ on March 14, 2017. (Tr. 132-54). On June 16, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision. (Tr. 107-23). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on March 14, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         Factual Background

         Personal Background and Testimony

         Plaintiff was born in April 1967, making him 47 years old on the alleged onset date. See Tr. 250. Plaintiff had past work in retail management where he was responsible for daily store operations, inventory control, employee training, and general customer service. (Tr. 135). He could no longer work because he “blacked out” while working and had numbness in his arms. (Tr. 136). Plaintiff had neck pain, which triggered migraines; the migraines in turn triggered the blackouts. Id. Plaintiff took medication to prevent the neck pain which would “somewhat” prevent the migraines and blackouts. (Tr. 136-37).

         Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in 2012 that resulted in left arm numbness, tingling in his fingers, and severe pain on the left side of his neck. (Tr. 139). He returned to work following the accident, but often called in sick due to these symptoms. Id. Plaintiff's migraines increased following the accident, to “[a]t least three times a month”, each lasting eight to ten hours. (Tr. 144). He had neck surgery in August 2012, which did not significantly improve his symptoms. (Tr. 140). Following the surgery, Plaintiff tried spinal injections, physical therapy, aquatic therapy, chiropractic treatment, therapeutic massages, and stem cell treatments. Id. These offered only “temporary” relief. Id.

         In February 2014, Plaintiff was injured at work when a box fell on him and “aggravated discs three and four”; doctors did not recommend surgery for this back injury. (Tr. 139).

         Plaintiff had numbness in both extremities, including both shoulders where he also experienced “constant pain”. (Tr. 141). The pain affected Plaintiff's ability to carry things and reach for objects above his head. Id. Plaintiff also experienced cramping in his hands along with “constant[]” numbness and tingling. (Tr. 141-42).

         Plaintiff also testified to numbness and tingling in his lower back, as well as pain and pressure from one of the discs in his back. (Tr. 142). This general back pain was aggravated by walking, sitting, or standing. Id. He was unable to lift more than five pounds. (Tr. 142-43). He used a TENS unit in combination with lying down to treat this pain; he previously took pain medication but doctors discontinued it because it did not help. (Tr. 143-44).

         Plaintiff lived alone; he cooked and cleaned for himself but had a hard time doing so. (Tr. 146-47). He completed simple cleaning tasks like vacuuming, lifting laundry, and lifting laundry detergent, but doing so caused him pain, such that he had to spread the tasks out over a period of time. (Tr. 147).

         He left the house less frequently than before on account of his depression, but went to the chiropractor, the grocery store, and the post office. (Tr. 147-48). He went to the grocery store two to three times a week because he could not carry much at once. (Tr. 148). While at home, he spent the majority of his time reading news online, but pain prevented him from doing so for an extended period of time. Id. Plaintiff also did not sleep well on account of pain and muscle spasms. (Tr. 148-49).

         Relevant Medical Records

         In early 2012, Plaintiff injured his neck in a car accident and underwent a neck operation shortly thereafter. See Tr. 345, 341. He also participated in physical therapy and took pain medication for the injury. Id. Plaintiff underwent a cervical spine operation in August 2012. See Tr. 317.

         In July 2014, Plaintiff treated with Stacy Schmotzer, M.D., for neck pain with stiffness which radiated down to his left arm. (Tr. 565). Plaintiff reported the severe neck pain triggered migraine headaches. Id. On examination, Plaintiff had discomfort with palpation along his lower cervical spine and increased pain in his right arm and shoulder with abduction. Id. Dr. Schmotzer prescribed pain medications and recommended Plaintiff follow up with his spine surgeon and pain management specialist. Id. In August, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Schmotzer for low back pain. (Tr. 315). She found Plaintiff had tenderness throughout his lumbar spine, intact sensation and full strength in both legs, and negative straight-leg raises bilaterally. Id.

         Plaintiff treated with chiropractor Steven Papandreas, D.C., from August 2014 to March 2015 for neck pain. (Tr. 397-500). At his initial visit, Plaintiff reported “severe” neck pain, headaches, dizziness, bilateral weakness in his upper extremities after being struck in the head at work with a 350-pound metal gazebo. (Tr. 496). At the time of his last appointment with Dr. Papandreas and throughout his treatment, Plaintiff's prognosis remained “guarded and uncertain”. (Tr. 399, 442, 446, 450). Dr. Papandreas regularly noted that Plaintiff “reported feeling better after the treatment, ” (Tr. 407, 411, 415, 419, 423, 442, 446, 450), and that his condition was “well controlled at this time” and improving (Tr. 442, 446, 450, 454, 458, 462).

         In December 2014 and January 2015, Plaintiff saw neurologist James Anderson, M.D., for neck pain and bilateral arm pain/numbness. (Tr. 511-15). Plaintiff reported intense neck pain was aggravated by “sitting, walking, standing, lifting, weather, and range of motion” and alleviated by rest and lying down. (Tr. 515). Dr. Anderson observed a herniated disc at ¶ 3-4, spontaneous fusion across the C4-5 ...

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