United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
For Karon Parker, Plaintiff: Joseph S Sellers, Deborah S Spector, Spector & Lenz PC, Chicago, IL.
For Commissioner of Social Security, sued as Carolyn W Colvin acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Clifford D Johnso, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office - SB/IN, South Bend, IN; James B Geren, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration - Chi/IL, Office of Regional Counsel, Chicago, IL.
SSA (Court Use Only), Miscellaneous Party, Pro se.
OPINION AND ORDER
Roger B. Cosbey, United States Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Karon Parker appeals to the district court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application under the Social Security Act (the " Act") for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB"). (Docket # 1.) For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be REVERSED, and the case will be REMANDED for further proceedings in accordance with this Opinion and Order.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Parker applied for DIB in March 2011, alleging disability as of August 31, 2008, which was later amended to December 10, 2010. (Tr. 68, 181-82.) The Commissioner denied Parker's application initially and upon reconsideration, and Parker requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 107-08, 129, 137-41.) On July 24, 2012, a hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ") Steven Neary, at which Parker, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 66-89.) On September 6, 2012, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Parker, concluding that she was not disabled because despite the limitations caused by her impairments, she could perform a significant number of jobs in the economy. (Tr. 18-27.) The Appeals Council denied Parker's request for review, at which point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 5-8.)
Parker filed a complaint with this Court on March 7, 2014, seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision. (Docket # 1.) In this appeal, Parker argues that the ALJ: (1) failed to properly consider the results of the Functional Capacity Evaluation (" FCE") performed by physical therapist, Chad Parent, upon which her treating specialist, Dr. Lutz, relied; and (2) improperly discounted the credibility of her symptom testimony. (Social Security Opening Br. of Pl. 6-16.)
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On the date of the ALJ's decision, Parker was forty-seven years old (Tr. 39, 191); had obtained a high school education and completed cosmetology school (Tr. 196); and had past work experience as a florist, injection mold operator, machine operator, and hair stylist (Tr. 197). Parker alleges that she became disabled due to, among other things, degenerative disc disease, right knee problems, asthma, bilateral hearing loss, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and bilateral shoulder pain. (Tr. 195.)
B. Parker's Testimony at the Hearing
At the hearing, Parker testified that she lives with her husband, who works outside the home. (Tr. 69, 78.) Since a work injury in March 2008, Parker has spent most of her days lying on the couch with her feet up. (Tr. 77, 80.) She is independent with her bathing and dressing, but her husband and neighbors do all of the housework. (Tr. 78.) She rides in a motorized cart if she goes shopping with her husband; she cannot sit long enough to attend church. (Tr. 79.) She does drive a car, but only to the doctor's office. (Tr. 79.)
As to her symptoms, Parker, who is four feet, ten inches tall and weighed 178 pounds, stated that she has constant, chronic back pain that makes it difficult to sit or stand for long periods, together with pain in her right knee. (Tr. 73, 82.) She also experiences shortness of breath due to asthma; ringing in her ears; and hand numbness due to carpal tunnel syndrome, which often causes her to drop items and makes writing and lifting difficult. (Tr. 71-72, 76, 80-82.)
Parker estimated that she could sit or stand for fifteen minutes at a time and walk about fifty feet before she has to lie down (Tr. 75-76, 83); she uses a cane when standing or walking (Tr. 80). She did not think that she could lift a gallon of milk. (Tr. 77.) She takes several medications for her back pain, which help " a little bit, " but also cause side effects of headaches, dizziness, nausea, and constipation. (Tr. 73-74.) She uses a nebulizer each night and every four hours as needed for her asthma. (Tr. 81.)
C. Summary of the Medical Evidence
In 2006, Parker underwent an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at C5 through C7 to treat diffuse disc bulging with cervical cord flattening, neuroforaminal narrowing, and loss of cerebrospinal fluid. (Tr. 253, 395.) Two years later, she had bilateral hemilaminectomies and foraminotomies performed at L2-S1. (Tr. 253, 587.)
In December 2008, Parker was evaluated by a physical therapist for her bilateral knee and back pain and given a home exercise program. (Tr. 359-69.) She was discharged after she failed to return for scheduled visits. (Tr. 369.)
In 2009, Parker underwent a right knee arthroscopy and medial plica excision. (Tr. 341, 523.) That same year she had ear tubes implanted bilaterally to treat moderate-to-severe hearing loss. (Tr. 415.) In 2010, electromyography studies revealed mild right median neuropathy of Parker's right wrist, indicative of carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 273, 559.) An MRI of her spine that same year indicated a bony overgrowth at C5-C6 effacing the ventral thecal sac resulting in mild anterior cord deformity and increased disc degeneration at the C7-T1 level. (Tr. 268.)
In 2011, Parker had a neuroma removed from her right knee. (Tr. 341, 523.) She also had a tympanoplasty performed on her left ear due to continued swelling and hearing issues. (Tr. 406, 540.) A chest x-ray revealed bilateral mild degenerative changes with small extending spurs in the acromioclavicular joints of the shoulder. (Tr. 552.) An MRI of Parker's temporomandibular joints of her jaw indicated complete right meniscus dislocation and severely restricted jaw opening and condylar excursion on the right. (Tr. 553.) In August 2011, Parker underwent an open meniscectomy of her TMJ and started physical therapy to improve the range of motion of her jaw. (Tr. 590-610, 613.) Repeat electromyography studies in 2012 confirmed mild right median neuropathy of Parker's right wrist, indicative of carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 273, 559.)
From at least June 2009 through April 2012, Parker was under the care of Dr. David Lutz, a pain management specialist, and received steroid injections, physical therapy, and medication management. (Tr. 253, 285, 290, 302, 309, 313, 331, 333, 342-72, 554-55, 559-60, 564, 566, 570, 587, 590-676.) Parker had difficulty tolerating strong painkillers and experienced only moderate pain relief. (Tr. 253, 285, 290, 302, 313.) Dr. Lutz kept Parker off work from at least September 2009 through March 2010. (Tr. 294, 300, 306, 312.) He discussed the possibility of using spinal cord stimulation and radio frequency ablation to help control Parker's pain. (Tr. 285.) Dr. Lutz diagnosed Parker with cervicalgia, cervicogenic myofascial pain syndrome, cervical degenerative disc disease, mild lumbar stenosis, low back and right lumbar radicular pain, status post bilateral L2-S1 hemilaminectomies and foraminotomies, and history of anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at C5-C7. (Tr. 253.)
In June 2009, Parker underwent a mental status examination by Robert Walsh, Psy.D., for purposes of her disability evaluation. (Tr. 249-51.) Parker reported a history of depression, but she had no symptoms at the time and was not receiving any mental health treatment. (Tr. 249, 251.) Dr. Walsh noted that Parker was animated and pleasant; her thought processes were logical; and her attention, concentration, insight, and judgment were good. (Tr. 250.) He diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, recurrent, mild, and assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning (" GAF") score of 63. (Tr. 251.)
In February and August 2010, Parker saw Dr. Steven Fisher, an orthopaedist, for her knee complaints. (Tr. 339-40.) She was using a cane. (Tr. 339.) Examination of the knee showed no effusion or significant crepitation, and there were no significant degenerative changes revealed on an x-ray. (Tr. 339-40.) He diagnosed her with anserine bursitis and gave her an injection. (Tr. 339-40.)
In December 2010, Parker was evaluated by a physical therapist for her low back, neck, and arm pain; she was given a home exercise program. (Tr. 347-51.) She was discharged after she ...