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Engle v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

December 9, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of SSA, Defendant.


ANDREW P. RODOVICH, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on the petition for review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration filed by the plaintiff, Patricia L. Engle, on November 26, 2013. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


The plaintiff, Patricia L. Engle, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging a disability as of January 21, 2011. (Tr. 124-25). Her application was denied on initial consideration and reconsideration. (Tr. 65-68, 70-72). Engle requested a hearing, and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge, Steven Neary, on May 17, 2012. (Tr. 36-56). Engle appeared with counsel, and the ALJ heard testimony from Engle, her husband, and an impartial vocational expert. (Tr. 36). On June 13, 2013, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Engle was not disabled at step two of the sequential evaluation process because she did not have any severe impairments. In September 2013, the Appeals Council denied Engle's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Engle now appeals the Commissioner's decision to this court.

At step one of the five step sequential analysis for determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ determined that Engle had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 21, 2011, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 26). At step two, the ALJ concluded that Engle did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities. (Tr. 26). In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ first summarized Engle's testimony. (Tr. 27). He noted that Engle testified that she had difficulty focusing and concentrating, suffered from constant pain that felt like muscle spasms in her back, hips, legs, and feet, and had two to five panic attacks per month that lasted for two hours to several days. (Tr. 27). Her medications made her sleepy for three to four hours after taking them, activity worsened her symptoms, and she was able to walk just half a block before her feet hurt and she became short of breath. (Tr. 27). She was able to stand for one hour before her legs hurt, only could lift five pounds, and had difficulty sleeping at night. (Tr. 27). Engle further testified that she rested for two to four hours a day, did not bathe on a daily basis, and sometimes stayed in her pajamas. (Tr. 27). The ALJ also noted that Engle's husband testified that she had withdrawn from others and got lost easily when driving. (Tr. 27).

The ALJ then summarized the impairments Engle identified. (Tr. 27). She stated that she had bipolar disorder, was depressed, and became confused at times. (Tr. 27). She had to rest in between doing loads of laundry, slept twelve to fourteen hours per day, her heart rate was fast, and she had a spastic colon. (Tr. 27). She further stated that she was falling apart, experienced episodes of vomiting, had experienced two heart attacks, sometimes shook all over during the entire day, was easily exhausted, and had trouble breathing, reaching overhead, and climbing stairs. (Tr. 27). She reported that she was much quieter than she used to be, sometimes had blurry vision, preferred to be alone, had difficulty handling stress and changes in routine, and needed reminders to care for her personal needs. (Tr. 27).

Prior to the hearing, Engle's sister, Pamela Sullivan, alleged that Engle wanted to stay home, had difficulty sleeping, did not care for her personal needs on a regular basis, and needed reminders to take her medications. (Tr. 27). Engle suffered from chest pain and shortness of breath and sometimes had panic attacks and paranoid thoughts. (Tr. 27). She also stated that Engle had difficulty lifting, standing, reaching, walking, climbing stairs, following instructions, concentrating, and handling stress and changes in routine. (Tr. 28).

The ALJ then stated that, considering the record as a whole, he found Engle's "medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms; however, the statements made by the claimant and Ms. Sullivan concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms were not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with a finding that the claimant has no severe impairment or combination of impairments for the reasons explained below." (Tr. 28).

The ALJ first explained that the evidence did not support a finding that Engle had severe impairments for twelve months. (Tr. 28). Engle was able to shop for groceries and pay bills at times, leave her home unaccompanied by other adults, do some reading, use a telephone to communicate with her friends, play cards, go to church, do light housework at her own pace, cook a couple times a week, care for her personal needs most of the time, go to Bible study, drive sometimes, watch television, go fishing, do some laundry, feed her cat and change its litter box, and sometimes do prison ministry with her father. (Tr. 28). For this reason, the ALJ concluded that at most Engle was mildly limited by her mental condition in her ability to perform activities of daily living, maintain social functioning, and sustain concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 28). The ALJ also noted that there was no evidence that she experienced any episodes of decompensation for an extended duration. (Tr. 28).

The ALJ then stated that the record was devoid of medical evidence or a "convincing medical opinion" to support a finding that the claimant had any severe impairments or to fully corroborate her subjective complaints. (Tr. 28). The state agency physicians concluded that Sullivan did not have any severe physical impairments. (Tr. 28). The ALJ also pointed to a report prepared by a physician who examined Engle at the request of the Social Security Administration in April 2011, Dr. Onamusi, which stated that Engle was able to engage in gainful employment and did not provide any specific limitations. (Tr. 28). Even Engle's own treating physician, Dr. King, did not state that Engle was limited significantly in her ability to perform basic work-related activities. (Tr. 28).

With regard to her physical problems, Engle complained of bilateral foot pain and chest pain to Dr. King in 2010. (Tr. 28). She was given Mobic and told to stretch her feet and use heel pads. (Tr. 28). She also received Cortisone injections in both heels. (Tr. 28). She did not regularly complain about her feet after 2010. (Tr. 28). The ALJ also noted that there was no "convincing evidence" of record that Engle had severe heart problems. (Tr. 28). A cardiac catheterization and a stress echocardiogram done in 2009 were within normal limits. (Tr. 28). Engle also complained of back, hip, and leg pain to Dr. King, and sought emergency room treatment for her right hip, lower back, and inguinal area pain in July 2011. (Tr. 29). Dr. King thought that Engle's symptoms were consistent with fibromyalgia. (Tr. 29). She had taken Lyrica, Neurontin, Ibuprofen, Vicodin, and a Medrom dose pack for her pain. (Tr. 29). She also saw a physician in January 2011 for an ovarian cyst, irritable bowel symptoms, and a fast heart rate. (Tr. 29).

The ALJ concluded that Engle's "physical examination findings since the alleged onset date have generally been unremarkable, except for being overweight (approximately 187 pounds) and tenderness in her SI regions." (Tr. 29). Engle's blood pressure almost always was within normal limits, and she did not take any antihypertensive medications. (Tr. 29). The x-rays of her left hip, sacrum, and coccyx were all negative. (Tr. 29). In September 2011, she had blood tests that revealed that her ANA, HLA-B27, sedimentation rate, uric acid level, and RA factor were all either negative or normal. (Tr. 29). She also reported that Lyrica was helping her pain level. (Tr. 29). Two months later, Dr. King noted that Engle was doing well and that her pain had improved markedly. (Tr. 29). This report came within twelve months of her alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 29). The ALJ also noted that there was no evidence that Engle exhibited any muscle atrophy, reflex or sensation abnormalities, or motor strength deficits since her alleged onset date. (Tr. 29).

The ALJ then addressed Engle's mental condition, first noting that the state agency psychologists concluded that Engle did not have any severe mental impairments. (Tr. 29). Dr. Kay Roy, Engle's treating psychologist, stated that Engle was not able to perform a three-step command, she had no useful ability to work with or near others without being unduly distracted, she could not get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them, and she exhibited behavioral extremes. (Tr. 29). She would not be aware of normal hazards and could not deal with the stress of semi-skilled or skilled work. (Tr. 29). Dr. Roy concluded that Engle was unable to meet competitive standards with regard to her ability to maintain attention for two-hour segments, maintain regular attendance and be punctual, complete a normal workday or workweek without interruption from psychologically-based symptoms, perform at a consistent pace, respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting, deal with normal work stress, set realistic goals, make plans independently of others, interact appropriately with the general public, maintain socially appropriate behavior, or travel in unfamiliar places. (Tr. 29). She further stated that Engle was limited in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out short and simple instructions, remember work-like procedures, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, make simple work-related decisions, and use public transportation. (Tr. 29). She concluded that Engle would be a danger to herself and others in a workplace because of her lack of attention and the likelihood that she would be absent more than four times a month. (Tr. 29).

The ALJ stated that he assigned greater weight to the state agency psychologists' opinion than to Dr. Roy's opinion or Sullivan's allegations. (Tr. 29). The ALJ explained that the state agency psychologists' opinion was most consistent with Engle's activities and the objective medical evidence of record. (Tr. 29). There was no evidence of record that Engle required inpatient ...

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