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Ferguson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 22, 2018


          Corbett O'Meara Magistrate Judge.



         I. RECOMMENDATION: For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 14), GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 19), and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Diane Ferguson, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for social security disability insurance (DI) benefits. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 14), the Commissioner's cross motion for summary judgment (DE 19) and the administrative record (DE 10).

         A. Background

         Plaintiff filed her application for DI benefits on January 14, 2014, alleging that she has been disabled since August 10, 2012. (R. at 140-41.) Plaintiff's application was denied, and she sought a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 81, 86.) ALJ Dawn M. Gruenburg held a hearing on August 27, 2015 ─ at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (R. at 42-70.) The ALJ considered all of the evidence and determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 25-41.) On July 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-4.) Thus, ALJ Gruenburg's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action on September 13, 2016. (DE 1.)

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History

         Plaintiff's combined medical records span the period from July 12, 1995 through December 18, 2015, and include complaints of back and shoulder pain, back spasms, obesity, and depression. (R. at 5-7, 238-731.) However, Plaintiff's alleged onset date is August 10, 2012, and her date last insured is December 31, 2013. (R. at 28.) The 246 pages of medical records are mostly comprised of hospital and treatment records and diagnostic tests, and the majority of the records pre- or post-date the relevant time period-between the alleged onset date and the date last insured. (R. at 230-476.)

         With respect to the relevant time period, Plaintiff was treated at Caring Heart Health Clinic beginning in July 2012, for complaints of spine pain and numbness in her legs, and was prescribed Neurontin. (R. at 230-33.) In August 2012, Plaintiff complained of shoulder pain and lumbar back pain with active range of motion. and she asked the nurse to complete disability paperwork for her. (R. at 239-42). At that time, the nurse restricted Plaintiff to lifting less than 10 pounds with her left arm and alternating activity with periods of rest. (R. at 240, 243.) An August 2012 x-ray of Plaintiff's left shoulder revealed significant changes of osteoarthritis and slight inferior subluxation suggesting the possibility of joint effusion. (R. at 247, 362.) Plaintiff continued to complain of back and shoulder pain at subsequent examinations in September and November 2012, March 2013, July 2013, and September 2013, and was prescribed various medications, including Flexeril, Motrin, Neurontin, Naproxyn and Ultram. At these subsequent examinations, the nurse indicated that Plaintiff either could “resume usual activities, ” or otherwise did not note any restrictions. (R. at 248-49, 253-54, 257-58, 260-61, 263-64.) Plaintiff was seen again in February 2014 for complaints of low back and sciatic pain and was prescribed Neurontin, Flexeril and Motrin, but the nurse again did not indicate any functional restrictions. (R. at 266-67.)

         Plaintiff also received chiropractic care during the relevant time period from Dr. David Varga, beginning on December 7, 2013, for complaints of pain in her entire spine and specifically radiating down into her left leg. (R. at 276-77.) She was seen several times until December 26, 2013, and reported relief from the treatments with pain described as 2-3/10. (R. at 278-81.) Plaintiff was next seen for chiropractic care monthly between January 7, 2014 and April 2014, and then again in June and July 2014, and continued to complain of soreness, stiffness and aching, and to describe her pain at generally 3-5/10. (R. at 282-87, 382-85.)

         The remaining medical records that pre- and post-date the relevant time period will be discussed as necessary below.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the August 27, 2015 hearing before ALJ Gruenburg. (See R. at 42-70.) Plaintiff testified she was 63 inches tall and 218 pounds, and the ALJ noted she had a Body Mass. Index of 38.6, indicative of obesity. (R. at 32, 46.) Plaintiff testified that she could not work because of her back injury, bursitis in her shoulder, lower back spasms, and sciatic nerve problems. (R. at 32, 47-48.) She also stated she has problems with her left hand because of her left shoulder arthritis, numbness in both hands, and stated that she treats her depression with herbs. (R. at 32, 53-54, 57.) She testified that she has difficulty standing after 10-15 minutes, can sit for 15-20 minutes, and can walk a block before needing to sit down. (R. at 32, 48-49.) Plaintiff testified she does very little yard work, cooks with her husband, helps with laundry and washing dishes, has trouble reaching overhead with her left arm, that pain disrupts her sleep and that she naps during the day. (R. at 32, 50, 57-59, 62.)

         D. The ...

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