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Mathews v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 28, 2017


          District Judge Sean F. Cox



         Plaintiff Tracy Earlene Mathews (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging Defendant Commissioner's (“Defendant's”) denial of Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties have filed 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 [Docket #21] be GRANTED, and that Plaintiff's Motions for Summary Judgment [Docket #15, Docket #29] be DENIED.[1]


         On November 27, 2013 Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging disability as of November 5, 2013 (Tr. 147). Following the initial denial of benefits, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held on March 24, 2015 (Tr. 32). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Patrick MacLean presided. Plaintiff, represented by attorney Madelyn Olcasek, testified (Tr. 38-67), as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Pauline McEachin (Tr. 68-70). On July 13, 2015, ALJ MacLean found that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 12-23). On June 29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff filed the present action on July 11, 2016.


         Plaintiff, born January 29, 1964, was 51 at the time of the administrative determination (Tr. 23, 147). She completed college and worked previously as a teacher and educational consultant (Tr. 172). She alleges disability due to diabetes, hypertension, brain tumors, osteoarthritis of the neck and back, thyroid tumors, costochondritis, and other medical conditions (Tr. 171).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff's counsel prefaced her client's testimony by noting allegations of “chronic back pain, hip pain, and knee pain owing to osteoarthritis” as well as hyperhidrosis of the feet, diabetes with neuropathy of the feet, an adjustment disorder, and a mood disorder (Tr. 36-37).

         Plaintiff then offered the following testimony:

         She held an Associates Degree from Wayne County Community College; a Bachelor's Degree from Wayne State University in Journalism and Political Science; and a Master's Degree in Business from the University of Phoenix (Tr. 38). Following the alleged onset of disability, she was evicted from her home in Detroit and now lived in subsidized housing (Tr. 39). Between the time of her eviction and her current placement, she lived with either friends or in a shelter between three and four months (Tr. 39). She now prepared “raw food” for breakfast to combat the conditions of diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol (Tr. 41). She was able to keep up with housekeeping chores in her small apartment (Tr. 42). She got a ride to a Laundromat around once a month and got a ride, took a bus, or walked to a nearby grocery store (Tr. 42). She held a valid driver's license but did not have access to a car (Tr. 42-43). She took a bus about twice a week, primarily to go to the library to use a computer to look for part-time jobs (Tr. 43). She walked approximately four blocks to catch a bus (Tr. 44).

         Due to financial limitations and body pain, Plaintiff's leisure activities were limited to watching television and reading (Tr. 45). Headaches resulting from a head injury prevented her from reading for long periods (Tr. 45). She attended church or Bible study on a regular basis (Tr. 46). The condition of hyperhidrosis made her feet hot and sweaty, requiring her to put her feet in cold water on occasion (Tr. 49). She also experienced diabetic neuropathy of the feet and the condition of flat feet (Tr. 50). She took Tylenol and Naproxen for pain (Tr. 50). She had been prescribed Gabapentin but experienced the side effect of drowsiness (Tr. 51).

         Due to osteoarthritis of the neck, back, and hips, Plaintiff generally changed positions after sitting, standing, or walking for 15 to 20 minutes (Tr. 52-53). She did not require the use of a cane (Tr. 54). She took Trileptal for the mental health conditions (Tr. 55). The Trileptal improved her condition intermittently (Tr. 55). She reported the overall effect of grogginess from her medications (Tr. 55). She had been seeing a nurse practitioner for the mental health conditions for around 10 months (Tr. 56). She had recently applied for a clerical position at a local hospital and was interested in working part-time (Tr. 56). She was unable to read for more than 15 minutes at a time due to headaches (Tr. 57). She used the library computer twice a week for both job searches and other internet searches (Tr. 59). She got along “okay” with others (Tr. 60).

         In response to questioning by her attorney, Plaintiff reported that she obtained good results from chiropractic treatment but that the frequency of treatment was compromised by financial constraints (Tr. 60). In addition to the above discussed medical and psychological conditions, Plaintiff experienced rashes periodically on her chest, arms, and legs (Tr. 61-62).

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Records Related to Plaintiff's Treatment

         In April and May, 2013, chiropractor David Sandler, D.C. treated Plaintiff for “neck [and] mid and lower back pain and stiffness” (Tr. 214). Plaintiff reported good results from treatment (Tr. 214-218). In May, 2013, podiatrist David S. Ungar, D.P.M. noted that Plaintiff's “chief complaint” was “generalized pain in arches and ankles” (Tr. 213). He gave her a “good” prognosis (Tr. 213). Plaintiff reported good results from orthotic devices (Tr. 256, 264). Notes from the next month by the Wayne State University Physician Group note diagnoses of hypertension, asthma (resolved), hyperlipidemia, pituitary problems, upper back surgery for a lipoma, and migraine headaches (Tr. 220). The following month, Plaintiff sought treatment for hyperhidrosis and a rash (Tr. 251-252). She reported anxiety due to financial stressors and occasional pelvic pain due to fibroids (Tr. 495, 497). September, 2013 records state that she experienced “chronic back and neck pain without red flag symptoms” for which she was unable to see a physical therapist due to insurance limitations (Tr. 489-490). Treating records state that she had been prescribed exercises but failed to perform them regularly (Tr. 490). She had previously been prescribed Naproxen based on her report musculoskeletal pain (Tr. 490). Notes from the following month state that the “chronic back pain” was “under control with home exercise program” (Tr. 484). In December, 2013, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment for a headache after being “pistol whipped” during the course of a robbery (Tr. 225). She did not exhibit disorientation, double vision, weakness, hearing loss, seizures, neck pain, or nausea (Tr. 225, 228). Plaintiff noted a medical history of hypertension, diabetes, and dermatitis (Tr. 225). A CT was unremarkable (Tr. 230-231).

         January, 2014 records note an elevated white blood count (Tr. 298). Plaintiff reported that she was otherwise feeling well (Tr. 298). She reported a history of diabetes as well as osteoarthritis of the spine and neck (Tr. 299). A March, 2014 eye exam was unremarkable (Tr. 457). Dr. Ungar's May, 2014 records note Plaintiff's report of depression, hypertension, diabetes, and prior foot surgery (Tr. 254). A mammogram was negative for malignancy (Tr. 526). May, 2014 records also state that she ...

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