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Barron-Green v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 4, 2019



          James R. Knepp II United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Tondanell Barron-Green (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (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. 14). For the reasons stated below, the undersigned affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI in May 2015, alleging a disability onset date of April 9, 2010. (Tr. 262-69). Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 197-202, 207-18). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 219-20). Plaintiff (represented by counsel), and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at a hearing before the ALJ on June 6, 2017. (Tr. 95-131). On November 15, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision. (Tr. 16-25). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the hearing decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981, 416.1455, 416.1481. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on July 23, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         Factual Background

         Personal Background and Testimony

         Plaintiff was born in March 1964, making her 46 years old on the alleged onset date, and 53 years old on the date of her hearing. See Tr. 262. She had past work as the manager of a group home and as a security guard. (Tr. 105, 107-08). Plaintiff left her job due to arthritis in her legs which kept “giving out” on her. (Tr. 107).

         Plaintiff testified that diabetic nerve pain and arthritis through her legs and feet were her most significant medical problems; she “just c[ouldn't] move around” like she used to. (Tr. 108). Plaintiff also had arthritis in her left hand and neck. (Tr. 110). She treated her nerve pain with various over-the-counter and prescription medications, of which, the gabapentin helped “a little bit”. (Tr. 109-10). She treated her arthritis with a combination of Tylenol and Meloxicam, which she again stated helped “a little bit”. (Tr. 111). Plaintiff did not like receiving shots in her knee and was uncomfortable with the idea of a knee replacement. (Tr. 111-12).

         Plaintiff estimated she could lift “maybe about twenty pounds”. (Tr. 112). She did not stand often; she sat and lay down “a lot” and was “uncomfortable all the time.” (Tr. 112-13). Plaintiff stated she could not walk to the corner of her street without tiring or sitting down. (Tr. 113).

         Plaintiff lived with her four adult sons and two granddaughters (ages eight and twelve). (Tr. 101-02). She performed some “light” household chores such as making her bed and vacuuming the floors; her sons did the rest. (Tr. 102-03). Plaintiff bathed and dressed herself but it took her “a while”. (Tr. 103). She did not cook meals for the family, but could prepare simple meals for herself. Id. Her sons and daughter-in-law grocery shopped. (Tr. 104).

         Plaintiff did not belong to any clubs or social organizations; she saw her mother, who lived close by, once a month. (Tr. 103-04). She did not drive due her medications which made her tired; her son drove her places when needed. (Tr. 104). Plaintiff did not have any hobbies; she watched television “a lot”. Id.

         Relevant Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff saw internist Brenda Smith, M.D., for a new patient visit in September 2010. (Tr. 395). She reported trouble sleeping, fainting/blackouts, nervousness/anxiousness, depression, joint pain (bilateral hands), joint stiffness (bilateral ankles), low back pain, and neck pain. (Tr. 396-97). Dr. Smith noted Plaintiff had diabetes mellitus which was “fairly well controlled.” (Tr. 396). She diagnosed, inter alia, unspecified joint pain. (Tr. 399).

         In October 2014, Plaintiff reported left-hand pain and “[e]pisodic” knee pain to Gaby Khoury, M.D[1]. (Tr. 441-43). She denied numbness or tingling in her feet. (Tr. 442). On examination, Plaintiff had mild tenderness over the medial aspect of her left knee with no effusion, and mild tenderness over her left hand (mostly near the carpal bones). (Tr. 443). Plaintiff saw Dr. Khoury again in December 2014; she reported occasional numbness and tingling in her feet. (Tr. 439). In June 2015, Plaintiff reported diffuse muscle pain, but denied numbness or tingling in her hands and feet. (Tr. 434). She told Dr. Khoury that she had not been in sooner due to lack of insurance. Id. On examination, Dr. Khoury found Plaintiff had intact sensation and normal distal pulses in her feet. (Tr. 435).

         An October 2015 x-ray of Plaintiff's spine - performed due to neck pain radiating to the left arm - revealed mild narrowing of the C5-C6 intervertebral disc space with spurring from the inferior endplate of C5 and minimal narrowing of the C4-C5 intervertebral neural foramen on the right side. (Tr. 468). These were described as “mild degenerative changes”. Id.

         Plaintiff saw Dr. Khoury again in November 2015 to discuss x-ray results and neck pain. (Tr. 473). Plaintiff's neck pain was ongoing with occasional tingling in her left thumb. (Tr. 475). Further, Plaintiff reported feeling depressed with decreased motivation and changes in appetite and sleeping habits. Id. Dr. Khoury diagnosed neck pain and depression. (Tr. 476).

         Later in November 2015, Plaintiff attended a consultative examination with Eulogio Sioson, M.D. (Tr. 451-55). Plaintiff reported pain in her lower back, knees, neck, and ankles. (Tr. 451). The pain in her knees and ankles arose after walking for five minutes, going up/down ten steps, or standing less than five minutes. Id. She “sometimes” drove; she did her own laundry, “light” cleaning, cooking, dishes, and grocery shopping. Id. Her son did the “heavy” household chores. Id. Plaintiff could dress, shower, button, tie, and grasp. Id. She could not comb her hair due to shoulder pain. Id. Plaintiff estimated she could lift and carry five pounds and rated her pain at 7/10. Id. Plaintiff also reported a history of depression, brought on by her daughter's death in 2012. Id. She had suicidal thoughts in the past with no attempts, poor sleep, and poor appetite. Id. Plaintiff felt tired “all the time” and hopeless “sometimes”. Id. She had memory and concentration issues and “sometimes” heard voices. Id. On examination, Dr. Sioson found Plaintiff walked normally with no assistive device; she lost her balance trying to heel/toe walk, and declined to squat due to back pain. (Tr. 452). She could get on and off the examination table. Id. Plaintiff had tenderness in her left knee and limited range of motion in her left shoulder (which she attributed to her neck pain). Id. She could grasp and hold a 1.6-pound dynamometer and manipulate with each hand; she could handle a clipboard, personal items, pill containers, and papers. Id. Dr. Sioson also found Plaintiff had tenderness in her neck and lower back and negative straight leg tests. Id. She was alert, oriented, and cooperative with no abnormal behavior. Id. Dr. Sioson diagnosed neck/back/joint pain, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus with probable peripheral neuropathy. Id.

         Also in November 2015, Plaintiff attended a consultative examination with psychologist J. Joseph Konieczny, Ph.D. (Tr. 457-60). Plaintiff reported recent depression and an overall history of depression since her daughter's death in 2012. (Tr. 458). She was tearful during the session and reported daily crying episodes. Id. Plaintiff had some tremulousness in her legs during the session, stating “I get nervous”. Id. Plaintiff appeared well groomed with adequate hygiene. Id. She had some psychomotor retardation. Id. Plaintiff was subdued and tearful, but cooperative. Id. She had adequate motivation and participation throughout the evaluation. Id. Plaintiff had clear and coherent speech but poor eye contact. Id. She was oriented to person, place, and time; showed no indication of impairment in her ability to concentrate or attend tasks, and showed no deficits in her ability to perform logical abstract reasoning. (Tr. 458-59). Plaintiff also had fair insight and judgment. (Tr. 459).

         Plaintiff saw Carla Baster, D.O., in December 2015 because her knee “went out” as she walked out a door; she fell, twisted her leg, and landed on her back. (Tr. 579). Plaintiff reported pain from her hip to her knee. Id. On examination, she had generalized knee pain and “very limited” range of motion. Id. Dr. Baster found Plaintiff difficult to examine because Plaintiff could not flex her knee. Id. Further, Dr. Baster found Plaintiff had tenderness through her lateral hip and upper leg; she refused a range of motion examination in this area. Id. Dr. Baster diagnosed a left knee strain and ordered x-rays. (Tr. 580). A left hip x-ray revealed “no acute osseous or ...

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