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Henderson v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


PAUL R. CHERRY, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Complaint for Judicial Review [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff James Henderson, Jr., on January 9, 2013, and Plaintiff's Social Security Opening Brief [DE 17], filed on July 25, 2013. Henderson challenges the September 2, 2011 decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that he is not disabled under the Social Security Act.

I. Background

The Court forgoes a detailed recitation of Henderson's medical background. Those looking for a comprehensive discussion of Henderson's medical records are directed to the extensive summaries found in the ALJ's decision (AR 23-32), Henderson's opening brief [DE 17], and the Commissioner's Response [DE 23]. Rather than reiterating those summaries, the Court gives a brief overview of Henderson's history of health issues and how the proceedings have unfolded thus far.

Henderson was born on December 31, 1948, and was fifty-three years old on the date he alleges his disability began. He worked as a pulpit attendant at a steel mill from 1967 until his last day of work on February 11, 2002. His chief medical complaints are multiple sclerosis, bone spurs, difficulty walking, and loss of balance.

Henderson filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on January 12, 2010, alleging that he was disabled beginning on his last day of work, February 11, 2002. Henderson's date last insured (i.e., the date by which his disability must have commenced in order to receive benefits) was June 30, 2007.

After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, Henderson appeared with his lawyer and testified at a video hearing before ALJ Curt Marceille. Vocational Expert Cheryl Hoiseth provided vocational testimony at the ALJ's request.

The ALJ issued a written decision on September 2, 2011, denying benefits. The Appeals Council denied Henderson's subsequent request for review, making the ALJ's denial the Commissioner's final decision. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981.

Henderson then sought Judicial Review on January 9, 2013. The Administrative Record was filed on March 13, 2013, and the matter became fully briefed on October 16, 2013. The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

A. Medical Background from Before the Date Last Insured

The records from before the last date that Henderson was insured reveal that he suffered from a number of back and nerve problems, resulting in persistent numbness in his hands and, increasingly, from the waist down. He had carpal tunnel syndrome in his right wrist, possibly related to chronic polyneuropathy, myelopathy, and radiculopathy. Doctors suspected he might have a syrinx (a fluid-filled cyst within the spinal cord) in his cervical spine. A brain MRI revealed mild atrophy and periventricular white matter changes, mainly in the right occipital lobe.

Drug treatment failed to make much difference. For one, he was allergic to steroids. Lyrica apparently did nothing to help. And he also took his medications inconsistently. Though he complained often of numbness and tightness in his legs, Henderson denied that he had difficulty walking. The doctors concluded that he suffered from mild myelopathy, dymylenization, and possibly from multiple sclerosis. He also was diagnosed with mild spondylosis, facet osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, narrow lumbrosacral joint space, and various arthritic changes in his back. None of the doctors recommended surgery, though neurosurgeon Dr. Kaakaji did suggest that a spinal tap of the syrinx might be helpful.

B. Medical Background from After the Date Last Insured

There was a three-year gap in medical treatment from November 2006 to December 2009. When Henderson again sought treatment, his condition had significantly worsened. His back was now afflicted with a number of degenerative changes throughout (e.g., bulging discs, herniated disc, etc.), causing nerve signal deterioration. One study revealed that he suffered from myelitis. His brainstem was also sending abnormal signals. His gate was clumsy, and he lost balance at times. He was prescribed physical therapy and a cane to help him with walking. (He testified at the hearing that has never taken to using the cane because he is stubborn and because, where he lives in Gary, Indiana, walking with a cane might make him a more conspicuous target for street violence.) His muscles were also weaker. Dr. Kaakaji recommended surgery to relieve spinal cord compression but noted that it would be difficult to predict if the surgery would alleviate his symptoms. By 2010, the doctors were agreed that Henderson very probably had multiple sclerosis.

Henderson's treating physician, neurologist Dr. Abu-Aita, advised the City of Gary that Henderson needed a designated handicapped parking space in front of his house because of his myelopathy, weakness, unsteady gate, and multiple sclerosis. In August 2010, Dr. Abu-Aita filled out a multiple sclerosis RFC questionnaire. In his answers, Dr. Abu-Aita explained that Henderson had severe impairments as a result of his multiple sclerosis. For example, Dr. Abu-Aita noted that Henderson could sit or stand/walk for only about an hour per day in ten-minute increments. And he noted that Henderson needed frequent unscheduled breaks and that he would miss work about four times per month because of his impairments.

At the hearing, Henderson testified that he has enormous difficulty walking and that he can barely drive. He also testified that his ailments were much the same before the date ...

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