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Suthers v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

February 25, 2014

LYN SUTHERS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant,


ANDREW P. RODOVICH, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on the petition for judicial review filed by the plaintiff, Lyn Suthers, on November 15, 2012. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


The plaintiff, Lyn Suthers, filed an application for Social Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits on April 9, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on June 22, 2007. (Tr. 10) Her application initially was denied and was denied upon reconsideration. (Tr. 64-70, 73-75, and 92-104) Suthers requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and a hearing was held on May 26, 2011 before ALJ Steven J. Neary. (Tr. 29) Suthers appeared and testified on her own behalf. (Tr. 29) Vocational Expert (VE) Dr. Robert Barkhaus also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 29.) Suthers was represented by counsel, Kenneth E. Mcvey. (Tr. 29) On July 14, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision denying benefits. (Tr. 7-28) On September 11, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6 and 148) Suthers filed this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner on November 15, 2012.

At step one of the five step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Suthers had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 22, 2007, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 12) At step two, the ALJ determined that Suthers had the following severe impairments: lumbar spondylosis, degenerative disc disease at C6-7, left shoulder impingement, trapezial inflammation, obesity, and depression. (Tr. 12) The ALJ next found that Suthers' impairments did not meet or equal Listings 1.02, 1.04, or 12.04. (Tr. 13)

At step four, the ALJ determined that Suthers had the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work in that she, "cannot perform more than occasionally crawling, crouching, kneeling, climbing, stooping, and cannot work at occupations requiring overhead reaching with her left upper extremity. She cannot engage in occupations that require complex or detailed tasks, but would remain capable of performing simple repetitive tasks." (Tr. 15) In reaching this decision, the ALJ followed a two-step process. (Tr. 15) First, the ALJ determined whether there was an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment. (Tr. 15) Second, the ALJ evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the claimant's symptoms to determine the extent to which they limit the claimant's functioning. (Tr. 15)

The ALJ first explained that Suthers testified that she had pain in her back, which appeared at the top of her neck, the center of her back, and in her tailbone. (Tr. 16) Suthers testified that her condition had worsened since 2007. (Tr. 16) Suthers explained that her pain was aggravated if she tried to walk or sit for long periods. (Tr. 16) Suthers described having problems lifting and carrying because of her left shoulder. (Tr. 16) At the hearing, Suthers testified that she had problems with her memory as well. (Tr. 16) Suthers reported taking medication with the side effect of sleepiness. (Tr. 16) Suthers last performed volunteer work in September 2009 that was required for her to receive public assistance. (Tr. 16)

The ALJ next summarized Suthers' daily activities. (Tr. 16) Suthers spent her day waking her daughter up for school, walking her to the bus stop, picking her up in the afternoon, and getting her a snack. (Tr. 16) Suthers did some household chores in addition to bathing and dressing herself. (Tr. 16)

The ALJ then assessed Suthers' medical records. (Tr. 16) The medical evidence revealed that Suthers is 55 inches in height and weighed 220 pounds, 234 pounds, 241 pounds, and 258 pounds in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. (Tr. 16) In 2007, a medical examination showed that Suthers' motor, sensory, and vibratory functions and gait were normal and that her deep tendon reflexes were symmetrical and equal. (Tr. 16) In 2009, Suthers was treated for lower back pain but was able to walk around the room without difficulty. (Tr. 16)

In January 2010, Suthers reported left extremity pain due to lifting 60-pound bags at her job. (Tr. 16) In August 2010, Saudia Mushkbar, M.D., diagnosed Suthers with left shoulder impingement and trapezial inflammation. (Tr. 16) Around this time, Suthers alleged that she had been experiencing left neck and shoulder pain for 15 years. (Tr. 16) X-rays showed degenerative changes at the acromioclavicular joint. (Tr. 16) Suthers was normal in her left shoulder range of motion, general strength, grip strength, left radial pulses, and ulnar area pulses. (Tr. 16)

Suthers attempted to treat her pain in a variety of ways. (Tr. 16) She went to physical therapy, but only on a limited basis due to pain and soreness. (Tr. 16) In August 2010, Suthers reported that she stopped taking her pain medication due to its ineffectiveness. (Tr. 16) Suthers also reported numbness and tingling in her left hand. (Tr. 17) In December 2010, x-rays showed that Suthers had degenerative disc disease at C6-7. (Tr. 17)

In January 2011, Dr. Mushkbak noted that Suthers reported a history of depression, anxiety, and low back pain. (Tr. 17) In March 2011, Suthers scored a 44/50 on an Oswestry Test, which tended to indicate that Suthers was either bed bound or exaggerating. (Tr. 17) On April 20, 2011, Dr. Coats diagnosed Suthers with a left knee sprain/strain stemming from a previous fall. (Tr. 17) Subsequently, Suthers was diagnosed at Ortho Northeast (ONE) with left degenerative osteoarthritis in the knee/mild patellofemoral degenerative joint disease and possible medical and/or lateral meniscus tears. (Tr. 17) On April 26, 2011, Suthers saw Julie Chao, M.D., because she no longer believed that her treatment at ONE was helping. (Tr. 17) Dr. Chao diagnosed Suthers with lumbar radiculopathy and left shoulder pain and started her on Perdocet 75/325. (Tr. 17)

In May 2011, Suthers had an MRI taken of her lumbar spine and left shoulder. (Tr. 18) The MRI of Suthers' lumbar spine revealed multilevel acquired spondylosis superimposed on mild congenital narrowing L3-S, L3-L4, and L5-S1 mild facet and disc disease, and L4-L5 central disc protrusion with annular tear and moderate facet arthropathy causing moderate foraminal and central canal narrowing with flattening of the L4 nerve roots in the foramen and L5 nerve roots in the lateral recess. (Tr. 18) The MRI of Suther's left shoulder displayed partial thickness (greater than 50%), partial width (12 mm), undersurface tearing extending 13 mm medial to lateral with no retraction or muscle atrophy; a small intramuscular ganglion extending from the infraspinatus tear into the body of the infraspinatus muscle; and tendinopathy without tearing of the supraspinatus. (Tr. 18) The MRI also revealed degenerative hypertrophy of the acromioclavicular joint with a 3 mm subacromial spur indenting the superior aspect of the supraspinatus. (Tr. 18)

Besides Suthers' physical impairments, the medical evidence showed that she suffered from mental impairments. (Tr. 18) In January 2007, Suthers was treated for a panic attack and prescribed Celexa. (Tr. 18) In September 2010, Wayne Von Bargen, Ph.D., examined Suthers at the request of the State agency and diagnosed her with a major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate severity, and a generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 18) Dr. Von Bargen noted that Suthers had experienced a major depressive episode several years earlier and was suffering from depressive symptoms including sleep disturbance, worry, and irritability. (Tr. 18) ...

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