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Lucas v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 31, 2017

CAROLYN ANN LUCAS, Plaintiff
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          R. STEVEN WHALEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Carolyn Ann Lucas brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment [Dock. #20] is GRANTED and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Dock. #14] is DENIED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 20, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of April 23, 2012 (Tr.86-87). After the initial denial of the claim, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held on February 19, 2014 in Oak Park, Michigan before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Timothy Christensen (Tr. 20). Plaintiff, represented by attorney Barry Keller, testified (Tr. 26-32), as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Kelly Stroker (Tr. 33-35). On March 27, 2014, ALJ Christensen found that Plaintiff was not disabled through the date last insured of December 31, 2013 (Tr. 10-16). On August 21, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff filed for judicial review of the final decision on October 10, 2015.

         II. BACKGROUND FACTS

         Plaintiff, born November 19, 1967, was 46 when the ALJ issued his decision (Tr. 16, 86). She received a GED and holds certified nurse assistant (“CNA”) credentials (Tr. 102). She worked previously assisting disabled individuals with personal care tasks and activities of daily living (Tr. 103). She alleges disability due to shoulder, back, and knee injuries (Tr. 101).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff offered the following testimony:

         She lived in a one-story house in Detroit, Michigan with her daughter, 22, son, 15, and grandson (Tr. 26). She seldom drove due to knee pain (Tr. 26). Prior to becoming to disabled, she worked as a CNA but also had past relevant work as an assembler and as a security guard (Tr. 27). She was unable to return to any of her former work due to her inability to lift more than 10 pounds, bend, or stoop (Tr. 27).

         Plaintiff worked up until the time of an April, 2012 vehicle accident (Tr. 28). She was now unable to maintain her house and relied on her daughter to do the laundry (Tr. 28). She did not perform any household chores and was unable to walk significant distances (Tr. 29). She was unable to stand for more than six minutes or sit for more than 30 minutes at a time (Tr. 29). She also experienced uncontrolled hypertension and the night before the hearing, had sought emergency treatment for blood pressure readings of 215 over 120 (Tr. 30). She took blood pressure medication and Prilosec for acid reflux (Tr. 30). She acknowledged that the hypertension and acid reflux were attributable to obesity (Tr. 30-31). She had gained approximately 60 pounds since the April, 2012 accident (Tr. 31).

         On a typical day, Plaintiff arose at 7:00 a.m. to help her son prepare for school (Tr. 32). She retired around 9:00 p.m. (Tr. 32). She experienced sleep disturbances due to pain (Tr. 32). She did not take pain medication due to a dispute with her insurance company (Tr. 32).

         C. Medical Evidence [1]

         1. Treating Sources

         April, 2012 emergency room records note Plaintiff's report of “sharp pressure-like” low back and buttock pain following a motor vehicle accident (Tr. 159, 161). Treating records note back and spine tenderness but a normal range of extremity motion (Tr. 161). Imaging studies were negative for fracture or dislocation (Tr. 161, 164, 166, 170-171, 173). An “Auto Clinic Note” from three days later notes Plaintiff's report of level “nine” out of ten neck, right shoulder, lower back, and right knee pain (Tr. 175). Plaintiff reported that she was unable to perform her job duties due to pain (Tr. 175). She was issued a “Disability Certificate” limiting her to lifting 10 pounds, good from April 27, 2012 to May 27, 2012 (Tr. 190). An MRI of the cervical spine showed disc bulges at ¶ 3-C4 and C5-C6 with mild encroachment (Tr. 175, 188, 215). An MRI of the lumbar spine showed a disc bulge with mild encroachment of the epidural space but no disc herniation (Tr. 187, 213, 216). The study was otherwise normal (Tr. 187). She was diagnosed with cervical strain and prescribed Vicodin, Soma, and physical therapy (Tr. 175). She received a certificate of disability for an additional month (Tr. 191). In June, 2012, Plaintiff reported ongoing lower back and knee pain (Tr. 177). She reported some improvement with physical therapy (Tr. 181). The following month, Plaintiff was re-prescribed Vicodin after reporting continuing neck, right, shoulder, and lower back pain (Tr. 179). She was limited to lifting more than 10 pounds until October 25, 2012 ...


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