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Brooks v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 2, 2016

SARAH J. BROOKS, Plaintiff,




         Plaintiff Sarah J. Brooks (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment which have been referred for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED and that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED.


         On October 5, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging disability as of November 1, 2009 (Tr. 138-141). After the initial denial of her claim, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held on February 3, 2014 in Livonia, Michigan (Tr. 35). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mary Connolly presided. Plaintiff, represented by attorney Dan Lee Smith, testified (Tr. 39-64), as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Dr. Lois P. Brooks (Tr. 64-66). On March 25, 2014, ALJ Connolly found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 29-30). On July 15, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff filed the present action on September 16, 2016.


         Plaintiff, born June 26, 1975, was 38 at the time of the administrative decision (Tr. 30, 138). She graduated from high school and attended two years of college (Tr. 182). She worked previously as a residential care provider and as a child care worker (Tr. 183). She alleges disability as a result of a back injury, asthma, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and a learning disorder (Tr. 181).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff offered the following testimony:

         She worked formerly as a child care giver and in a group home as an adult care giver for individuals with traumatic brain injuries (Tr. 40-41). She worked in her home taking care of children until November, 2012 (Tr. 41).

         Plaintiff experienced disabling back pain and asthma (Tr. 42). She was placed in special education classes in school due to learning and emotional disabilities but was able to read (Tr. 43). She experienced poor mathematical skills (Tr. 44). She currently took Prozac (Tr. 44-45). She had also received treatment and medication for anxiety (Tr. 46). Bouts of anxiety were characterized by breathlessness and fear (Tr. 47). Prozac created the side effect of suicidal ideation (Tr. 48). She experienced depression intermittently[1] (Tr. 49). The depression was characterized by crying jags and lack of motivation (Tr. 49-50). She experienced daily headaches and migraines approximately three times a week lasting between 5 and 48 hours (Tr. 51-52). None of her prescribed medicine resolved the migraines (Tr. 51). Migraines were characterized by blurred vision and faintness (Tr. 52).

         Plaintiff's lower back pain radiated into her left leg (Tr. 52). Aside from the radiculopathy, she experienced the independent conditions of Achilles tendinitis and plantar fascitis of the left ankle and foot (Tr. 53). Her foot problems had worsened since breaking her foot one year earlier (Tr. 53). On a scale of 1 to 10, she experienced level “7” back pain (Tr. 54). She coped with pain by lying down and switching positions (Tr. 54). She had also been taking Percocet every day for two years even though it made her “loopy” (Tr. 55). Motrin 800 caused stomach upset (Tr. 55).

         Plaintiff was unable to walk for more than half a block due to shortness of breath (Tr. 55). She was limited by constant back pain (Tr. 56). She could stand for up to 20 minutes before requiring a position change (Tr. 56). She was unable to sit for more than five minutes without a position change (Tr. 57). She was unable to lift more than five pounds (Tr. 58). Back pain and lack of motivation resulted in the need to lie down a total of 12 hours a day (Tr. 58-59). She performed household chores with the help of her nine-year-old son (Tr. 59-60). She experienced shortness of breath while performing laundry chores (Tr. 60). She engaged in the hobbies of reading, writing poetry, and playing Uno with her son (Tr. 61). She used a nebulizer for the condition of asthma (Tr. 61). Plaintiff did not attend many of her son's school activities because she no longer had a car (Tr. 62).

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Records Related to Plaintiff's Treatment [2]

         May, 1992 school records state that Plaintiff was eligible for special education due to an emotional impairment (Tr. 219). Plaintiff's academic weakness was identified as “immaturity” (Tr. 219).

         February, 2011 University of Michigan Health System records created by Jennifer Castillo, M.D. state that Plaintiff returned for treatment after a six-month absence, requesting medication for anxiety (Tr. 854). Dr. Castillo's records from the following month note Plaintiff's report of headaches (Tr. 852). In May, 2011, Dr. Castillo prescribed Cymbalta for headaches (Tr. 850-851). Plaintiff reported headaches the following month (Tr. 848). Also in May, 2011, Plaintiff was diagnosed with sleep apnea (Tr. 843).

         In October, 2011, Plaintiff reported that she stopped taking Cymbalta because her anxiety was “not bad” (Tr. 268). The same month, she was prescribed Vicodin and Flexeril for back pain (Tr. 279). She denied headaches and exhibited a normal gait (Tr. 310-311). The following month, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment for an allergic reaction of throat swelling (Tr. 296, 298, 781). She was found capable of returning to work on November 18, 2011 (Tr. 295). December, 2011 records show that Plaintiff continued to take Prednisone (Tr. 359). She denied headaches, but reported anxiety and continued back pain (Tr. 358). She exhibited a normal gait (Tr. 336).

         In January, 2012, Plaintiff was prescribed Vicodin (Tr. 331). Later the same month, she sought emergency treatment for headaches and abdominal pain (Tr. 946). Blood work was unremarkable (Tr. 944). She was released after her blood sugar levels were stabilized (Tr. 944). The following month, Plaintiff denied current headaches (Tr. 321). At the end of the same month, Plaintiff reported the current conditions of anxiety, asthma, depression, back pain, and headaches (Tr. 316-317). In March, 2012, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment for leg swelling (Tr. 415, 937-938, 999, 1001). She denied other health concerns (Tr. 937). Plaintiff reported that she had lost 47 pounds in the past year and now weighed 320 pounds with a goal of 225 (Tr. 937). Imaging studies from the following month showed “clear” lungs (Tr. 929-930). April, 2012 records state that Plaintiff failed to keep an appointment for an MRI of the spine (Tr. 993).

         May, 2012 records state that Plaintiff walked “a lot” in her job as a nanny (Tr. 387). Imaging studies of the abdomen showed a gallstone (Tr. 363, 380, 768, 984). Plaintiff sought emergency treatment later the same month for asthma (Tr. 495, 924). An undated form (created between December, 2011 and May, 2012) states that Plaintiff experienced 18 tender points consistent with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia (Tr. 1022).

         In June, 2012, Plaintiff reported that asthma was worse at night (Tr. 488). She denied current headaches (Tr. 488). Treating notes state that she had an adverse effect from prednisone (Tr. 487). She was diagnosed with pneumonia (Tr. 467, 698). A chest x-ray was negative for active infiltration (Tr. 1054). The following month, Ashraf Uzzaman, M.D. found Plaintiff's asthma moderate to severe (Tr. 441-442). The same month, Plaintiff denied headaches (Tr. 439). In August, 2012, Plaintiff denied current shortness of breath and headaches (Tr. 514, 520, 528, 1051). She was re-prescribed Klonopin (Tr. 510). She exhibited a normal gait and muscle tone (Tr. 504).

         In September, 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with kidney stones (Tr. 914, 606). She was prescribed Oxycodone (Tr. 595). Treating records include a form stating that Plaintiff experienced at least 11 of 18 tender points consistent with fibromyalgia (Tr. 593). Imaging studies of the left foot were negative for fractures (Tr. 981). She was referred for psychiatric counseling (Tr. 554, 610, 1025). The same month, intake records by Catholic Social Services note Plaintiff's report of significant symptoms of depression (Tr. 554). Plaintiff appeared fully oriented (Tr. 554). She was assigned a GAF of 58[3] (Tr. 557). At an October, 2012 followup psychiatric examination, she reported crying on a daily basis (Tr. 560). The same month, Joseph B. Thompson, M.D. completed a “medical needs” form, stating that Plaintiff was unable to work for one year due to back pain, depression, anxiety, and asthma (Tr. ...

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