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Carnahan v. Colvin

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

March 5, 2014

Kimberly D. Carnahan, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



Plaintiff Kimberly D. Carnahan seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her application for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits under the Social Security Act. For the following reasons, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

A. Procedural Background

On November 23, 2009, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits alleging a disability onset beginning October 15, 2008. (R. at 142.) The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied her claim initially on May 19, 2010, and upon reconsideration on July 22, 2010. (R. at 82-85, 91-93.) On April 18, 2011, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Warnecke Miller. (R. at 38.) On May 9, 2011, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability benefits. (R. at 32.) Her opinion became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 28, 2012. (R. at 1.)

B. Factual Background

(1) Plaintiff's Background and Testimony

Plaintiff was born in 1971. (R. at 142.) She has some college education. (R. at 257.) Plaintiff is the primary caregiver for two minor children. (R. at 176.) She also has a live-in boyfriend of several years, who sometimes helps Plaintiff care for her children. (R. at 176-177.) Plaintiff met and started dating her boyfriend almost a year after her alleged onset date. (R. at 195.) Plaintiff sees her father about once or twice per week. (R. at 186.) Plaintiff completes basic household chores such as grocery shopping, dish washing, and clothes washing, with limited assistance from her minor children. (R. at 175-77.) She cares for a small terrier dog. (R. at 176.) However, she asserts difficulties caring for her own basic needs, such as washing and dressing herself. (R. at 176.)

Before 2008, Plaintiff worked as a bartender, waitress, and legal secretary both full-time and part-time. (R. at 19-20, 350.) The bartender and waitress work required she mostly stand during her shifts, while the legal secretary job allowed her to sit for much of the day. (R. at 50-51.) Neither job required Plaintiff to lift more than ten pounds. ( Id. )

In 2005, she started working full-time for her friend's family's flower shop. (R. at 45, 229.) Her duties included updating the website, taking outside business orders, networking, managing human resources, overseeing the family's rental properties, and caring for the owner's mother. (R. at 45, 51.) This job required that Plaintiff sit for about three to five hours per day and lift about ten pounds. (R. at 50-51.) In 2009, she earned a salary of more than $2, 104 per month, while working for this shop for four full quarters. (R. at 151, 157.)

Although she alleges an onset date of October 15, 2008, Plaintiff continued to work at the flower shop for about sixteen months until February 1, 2010. (R. at 229.) The shop's owner, Tom Sherer, claimed Plaintiff was unable to perform her flower shop duties adequately.[1] Plaintiff said that she received special considerations, such as frequent absences, lower quality of accepted work, fewer hours, and more breaks. (R. at 225.) Mr. Sherer said he hired Plaintiff because she is his daughter's friend and became "like a family member." (R. at 227.) Plaintiff has been unemployed since she stopped working at the flower shop on February 1, 2010. (R. at 229.)

Plaintiff testified that she usually only leaves her house in intervals of two to four hours twice per week-once to visit a doctor and once to shop for groceries. (R. at 62-63.) She stated there are consequences for leaving the house, such as needing extra sleep and feeling "wiped out." (R. at 62.) She further claimed her depression keeps her at home unless she has to leave, because she has no more friends. ( Id. ) Plaintiff said she hardly ever drives, and someone else usually drives for her. (R. at 66.)

Also, Plaintiff cannot crouch to pick things off the floor because this causes her to fall, but she can usually get around this problem by grabbing something from her left side. (R. at 59.) Plaintiff said she has trouble lifting things, and her tremors make holding and moving things difficult. (R. at 63.) She stated she has memory issues, problems following verbal instructions, and trouble moving her neck. (R. at 66-67.) Plaintiff also stated she gets double vision and sees black spots, but she never visited an eye doctor. (R. at 65.)

(2) Medical Evidence

Plaintiff alleges severe, medically determinable impairments of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis ("MS"), degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine at C5-C6 with disc protrusion, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, sleep stage dysfunctions, depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). (R. at 25.)

(a) Severe Physical Impairments

Plaintiff visited radiologist Dr. Edward Weber in January 2005 for a magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") scan of the cervical spine, and Dr. Weber noted a posterior disc protrusion at C5-C6. (R. at 493.) Internist Dr. Steven Mooibroek ordered an MRI of the head, which was performed in April 2006. (R. at 484-85.) Dr. Bessette, a radiologist, identified white lesions of the cervical cord at C1-C3, consistent with MS plaques, along with degenerative disc disease at C5-C6 and diffuse disc bulging. (R. at 484.) In May 2006, Plaintiff saw neurologist Dr. Ajay Gupta for evaluation of possible MS. (R. at 477.) Dr. Gupta gave a "questionable diagnosis" of MS. (R. at 478.) In August 2006, after several months of testing, Dr. Gupta diagnosed her with MS. (R. at 446-47.)

More than six months later, in February 2007, Plaintiff saw neurosurgeon Dr. Isa Canavati, who confirmed degenerative disc disease and central disc protrusion at C5-C6 diagnoses, as well as her history of MS. (R. at 436.) Dr. Canavati referred her to neurologist Dr. David Lutz to address her chronic neck and upper right shoulder girdle region pain. (R. at 427-26, 436.) Dr. Lutz performed multiple trigger point injections and prescribed a comprehensive spine rehabilitation program. (R. at 427-29.) In February 2008, Dr. Gupta noted symptomatology of spotty vision, reported ongoing treatment for relapsing-remitting MS, and proposed disease-modifying therapy. (R. at 305-06.) In November 2009, Dr. Gupta reported Plaintiff's MS was in remission but diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. (R. at 260.)

About three months later, in January 2010, neurologist Dr. Lael Stone recommended MRI scans of Plaintiff's cervical and thoracic spine, but the scans were negative for lesions. (R. at 396-400.) Next, orthopedist Dr. Russell De Micco diagnosed her with degeneration of cervical and intervertebral discs but did not believe spinal surgery or injections were needed. (R. at 386-88.) On that same date, rheumatologist Dr. Quingping Yao attributed Plaintiff's pain to fibromyalgia and suggested physical therapy. (R. at 379.) Also, Dr. Stone noted Plaintiff's MS appeared stable, indicated Plaintiff's fatigue might be secondary to sleep apnea, and ordered polysomnography testing. (R. at 371-75.) Later that month, neurologist Dr. Silvia Neme-Mercante diagnosed her with sleep stage dysfunctions. (R. at 369-70.) In June 2010, primary care physician Ashraf Hanna performed a wellness exam and diagnosed Plaintiff with MS, fibromyalgia, and celiac disease. (R. at 501-02.)

(b) Severe Mental Impairments

In September 2009, Plaintiff saw neuropsychologist Dr. Tasha Williams for a neuropsychological evaluation. (R. at 256.) Dr. Williams noted symptoms of depression and concluded Plaintiff had cognitive changes secondary to MS. (R. at 258.) In December 2009, psychiatrist Dr. Valsa Ouseph diagnosed her with major depression. (R. at 314.) A few days later, psychological counselor Tosha Gearhart diagnosed Plaintiff with PTSD and anxiety. (R. at ...

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