United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING COMMISSIONER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 18) AND AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
PAUL D. BORMAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Jennifer Dawn Wiseman ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") that denied both her application for disability insurance benefits and also her application for supplemental security income pursuant to the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, filed this action on November 27, 2013 stating that the underlying ruling was "not fair" and requesting this Court "open this case to see and follow through to be fair and objective". (ECF No. 1, Compl.). On July 9, 2014, Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub issued an Order to Show Cause after Plaintiff failed to file a brief on the date provided by the scheduling order. (ECF No. 16). Magistrate Judge Majzoub allowed Plaintiff until July 31, 2014 to file her brief or risk dismissal. Plaintiff never filed a motion. The Commissioner filed its motion for summary judgment on September 25, 2014. (ECF No. 18).
For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") conclusion that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to the proper legal standards. Therefore, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment and affirm the Commissioner's decision.
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed her applications for supplemental social security income and disability insurance benefits on February 28, 2011. (Tr. 11). Plaintiff claimed disability based on degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with radiculopathy, chronic pain syndrome, obesity, affective disorder and a learning disability. (Tr. 13). Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of June 18, 2010 in both of her applications. ( Id. ) These claims were initially denied on July 1, 2011 (Tr. 89-97) and Plaintiff then requested a hearing (Tr. 100-01). On June 6, 2012, ALJ Michael R. Dunn held a hearing during which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 30-57). Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing and a vocational expert, Don K. Harrison, also appeared and testified. (Tr. 49-57).
On July 25, 2012, ALJ Dunn issued his decision and found Plaintiff was not disabled because while she could not perform her past work, she had the residual functional capacity to perform "less than the full range of sedentary work" subject to additional postural and manipulative limitations. (Tr. 15). This decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review on September 25, 2013. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff then filed the present action with this Court on November 27, 2013 (ECF No. 1, Compl.).
B. Hearing Testimony
Plaintiff testified during the hearing before the ALJ that she was 36 years-old with an eleventh grade education. (Tr. 33-35). Plaintiff noted that all of her classes in school were special education classes. (Tr. 35). Plaintiff also testified that she is five feet and five inches tall with a weight of 280 pounds and that there was had been no significant change in her weight over the last year. (Tr. 33-34). Plaintiff represented that she lived in a house with her mother and her eleven year-old daughter. (Tr. 33).
Plaintiff's attorney represented that Plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident in 2000 and those injuries eventually caused her to stop working in 2010. (Tr. 32).
Plaintiff testified as to her symptoms and pain explaining that she suffered from neck pain that radiated to her shoulder that caused hand numbness. (Tr. 37). Plaintiff also noted that she did not have pain elsewhere, but then later testified that she also had knee pain for which she used a cane. (Tr. 38, 40). Plaintiff noted, however, that she had never been told to use a cane by a doctor. (Tr. 40). Plaintiff identified that she suffered tingling in her left hand which happened on a daily basis. (Tr. 46). Plaintiff also described that she had numbness in her right arm and hand a couple of times a day that also caused her right hand to swell. (Tr. 46-47). Plaintiff noted that the numbness and tingling in her hands would generally last an hour or two and go away on its own, but that she submerged her right hand in cold water twice a day to help with the swelling. (Tr. 46-47). Plaintiff also testified that she could sit for thirty minutes at a time and stand for thirty minutes at a time. (Tr. 42, 45). Plaintiff explained that she spent two hours of her day in bed laying on her side and also described that position as being the most comfortable position for her. (Tr. 48). Plaintiff also explained that she could only walk one half a city block before she would need to rest. (Tr. 41). Plaintiff related that she had problems sleeping because of her pain and that she had low self-esteem that caused her to stay in and keep to herself. (Tr. 41-42). Plaintiff stated that her medications and her injections afforded her "a little bit" of relief. (Tr. 39).
Plaintiff testified that she has her driver's license but had not driven in the last two months because of difficulties driving related to the numbness in her right hand. (Tr. 34). Plaintiff clarified that she "usually walks". ( Id. ). Plaintiff worked part-time during 2011 babysitting for two small children (ages three and two). (Tr. 36).
As to her daily activities, Plaintiff testified that she led a very limited lifestyle and stated that her mother and her daughter performed all of the household chores, and at times she needed assistance bathing. (Tr. 42-44).
C. Medical History
Plaintiff's attorney advised the ALJ during the hearing that her medical problems began after an automobile accident in 2000 and those injuries were degenerative in nature. (Tr. 32). Therefore, Plaintiff's attorney explained that while she was able to return to work after the accident she eventually had to stop working in June 2010 because of her impairments, although she did work briefly in 2011. ( Id. ).
The ALJ noted that the majority of Plaintiff's medical history predated her alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 16). The ALJ noted that Plaintiff's early medical record consisted primarily of complaints of right shoulder pain, neck pain, and sporadic knee pain attributable to the automobile accident in April 2000. (Tr. 16, 240-58, 261-71, 277-342). An X-ray of Plaintiff's right shoulder taken in October 2000 noted that there were "no acute, displaced fractures" but possible "joint effusion". (Tr. 256). In October 2000, Dr. Jeffrey Zacharias noted that she suffered from "right shoulder pain of unknown etiology" and ordered an MRI (Tr. 265). Some seven months later, in July 2001, Plaintiff came for a follow up visit and the same doctor noted that she had not had the MRI as ordered because she was pregnant and that she had not attended physical therapy as prescribed. (Tr. 265).
An MRI was taken in August 2001 and the final impression was that "there was no significant findings and there is no evidence of internal derangement." (Tr. 270). There was also no rotator cuff tear and the MRI scan was "normal". ( Id. ). Dr. Jeffrey Zacharias also found that there was "no need for surgical intervention on her shoulder." (Tr. 271). Plaintiff's complaints of pain, muscle spasms and tenderness were treated with medications and she was prescribed physical therapy although only attended for a week. (Tr. 241-42, 252-58, 264-65, 266-71).
In March 2010, Plaintiff received an MRI scan which set forth in its findings that the "vertebral bodies demonstrate normal height and alignment" and the "marrow signal characteristics" and the cervical cord characteristics were within normal limits. (Tr. 473). The radiologist also noted his impression that the MRI scan evidenced "mild degenerative disc disease with small central herniations evident at multiple levels, but ...