United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
RYAN E. CROWDUS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPEAL
TIM A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Ryan E. Crowdus appeals the Administrative Law Judge's denial of his Social Security application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. Crowdus's alleged impairments include degenerative disc disease, asthma, and obesity. [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 12.] Crowdus appeals arguing (1) the ALJ erred in finding no disability due to chronic back and leg pain; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to summon a medical advisor; (3) the ALJ erred in her credibility determination; and (4) the ALJ erred in finding Crowdus capable of performing work in the national economy. For the reasons set forth below, Crowdus's brief in support of appeal [Filing No. 13-2] is denied and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
A. Standard of review
The Social Security regulations provide a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a plaintiff is disabled: whether the plaintiff (1) is currently unemployed, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment that meets or equals one of the impairments listed as disabling in the Commissioner's regulations, (4) is unable to perform her past relevant work, and (5) is unable to perform any other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2009). "An affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled." Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (quoting Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985)). "A negative answer at any point, other than Step 3, ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not disabled." Id.
The Court must uphold the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports his findings. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2013). "Although a mere scintilla of proof will not suffice to uphold an ALJ's findings, the substantial evidence standard requires no more than such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. The ALJ is obligated to consider all relevant medical evidence and cannot simply cherrypick facts that support a finding of nondisability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). If evidence contradicts the ALJ's conclusions, the ALJ must confront that evidence and explain why it was rejected. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). The ALJ, however, need not mention every piece of evidence, so long as he builds a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion. Pepper, 712 F.3d at 362.
B. Disability finding
Crowdus contends that the ALJ erred in finding no disability due to chronic back and leg pain. Crowdus argues that the ALJ based his decision on his own layperson opinion, selectively considering or ignoring evidence in the record. By doing so, Crowdus claims that the ALJ failed to build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion. [Filing No. 17, at ECF p. 8.] In response, the Commissioner argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Crowdus is not disabled due to chronic back and leg pain. The ALJ's decision discussed over a year of examinations. The ALJ examined Crowdus's complaints of low back pain radiating into his right leg. The ALJ noted an April 2010 examination that revealed marked tenderness to palpation throughout Crowdus's paralumbar musculature. He also mentioned a May 2010 report that Crowdus walked with a limp, used a cane for balance and support, and had marked tenderness. X-rays revealed mild problems with the lumbar spine extending to the nerve root canal. However, the same report found no focal motor or sensory deficits and a normal gait. Crowdus also had no extremity weakness. [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 14.]
The ALJ's decision considered a motor examination in June 2010 where Dr. John Garanschelli found Crowdus restricted in forward bending to about 60 degrees and bilateral hamstring tightness. But in that same exam, Dr. Garanschelli found good symmetrical and equal strength in the hip, knee, and ankle flexors and the corresponding extensors. [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 15.] Dr. Garanschelli also reported good sensation in the lower extremities with no evidence of a clear-cut neurologic dysfunction, and no evidence of fracture or surgically significant disc herniation requiring surgery. [Filing No. 13-7 at ECF p. 12.] The ALJ's decision reported that a chiropractor recommended neurosurgery in September 2010. But the ALJ also noted a July 2011 examination where Crowdus had no difficulty walking or gait unsteadiness with possible limitation by pain of the right dorsiflexion. By an October 2011 emergency room visit, Crowdus appeared to be able to walk around the room without difficulty and had a normal gait with 5/5 strength in all four extremities. Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Crowdus's pain symptoms were not consistent with the medical evidence. The ALJ provided detailed evidence to support his finding that Crowdus had no disability due to chronic leg and back pain. Thus, the ALJ did not err.
According to Crowdus, the ALJ also erred in his consideration of a July 6, 2011, evaluation by treating neurosurgeon Dr. Scott Shaprio. Crowdus asserts that the ALJ ignored findings of radicular paresthesias and numbness in his right foot related to back pain. [Filing No. 17, at ECF p. 8.] The Court disagrees. At the July 6 evaluation Dr. Shapiro found Crowdus's lower extremities to be 5/5 throughout with right hip flexion and knee extension and possible pain limitation in the right dorsiflexion. Crowdus described his symptoms to Dr. Shapiro as a shooting pain descending his right leg and the presence of a positive straight leg raise. [Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 29.] The ALJ discussed Shapiro's findings in his decision, specifically noting Crowdus's examination results and that, other than his gait being antalgic, Crowdus had no difficulty walking or an unsteady gait. [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 16.] While the ALJ's decision does not mention Crowdus's numbness and radiating pain as described in the July 6 evaluation, the ALJ discussed similar numbness and pain from an April 2011 examination. [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 15.]
Crowdus also argues that the ALJ ignored an MRI showing some impingement on the right L5 nerve root, which contradicts the ALJ's finding of no evidence of nerve root compression. However, Dr. Shapiro reported that the MRI "reveals a right L5-S1 far lateral disc bulge, possibly with some impingement on the right L5 nerve root." [Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 29.] A finding of possibly some impingement does not conclusively determine nerve root compression. However, it is evidence of some type of nerve root problem. The ALJ failed to acknowledge evidence of a possible nerve root compression. Thus, the ALJ's finding is not entirely correct. But this alone does not require remand. See Jones v. Astrue, No. 2:12-CV-00143, 2013 WL 816170, at *13 (N.D. Ind. 2013) ("[t]he Seventh Circuit ...