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Hill v. Colvin

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

December 10, 2014

ANNE R. HILL, Plaintiff,


RUDY LOZANO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying Disability Insurance Benefits to Plaintiff Anne R. Hill ("Hill"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision is AFFIRMED.


On July 1, 2011, Hill filed an application for Social Security Disability Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. section 401 et seq. She also applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. section 1381 et. seq. Hill alleged that her disability began on June 30, 2011. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her initial application and also denied her claim upon reconsideration.

Hill requested a hearing, and on September 6, 2012, Hill appeared with her attorney at an administration hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Maryann S. Bright. Testimony was provided by Hill, Kim Stamate, Hill's friend, and vocational expert Robert L. Bond. On September 27, 2012, ALJ Bright issued a decision denying Hill's claims, and finding her not disabled because she could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy, despite her limitations. (Tr. 7-24.)

Hill requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 422.210(a). Hill has initiated the instant action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 405(g).



Hill was born in 1958, and was 52 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 18.) She earned her GED in 1992. (Tr. 165.) Hill worked as a press operator between March 1998 and June 2011. (Tr. 165.)

Medical Evidence

In 1985, Hill underwent cervical fusion surgery at C5-C6. (Tr. 230.) In November 2010, Dr. Greg Chupp diagnosed Hill with a neck strain. (Tr. 208.) On November 29, 2010, Dr. Chupp reexamined Hill's neck injury, found she was "doing well, " and released her to full work with no restrictions. (Tr. 206, 208-09.) Dr. Chupp's notes indicate that Hill "states [she] feels a lot [ sic ] better, ready to go back to work with no restrictions." (Tr. 209.)

On December 11, 2010, Hill was treated for left shoulder pain (Tr. 210). Hill was able to move "all extremities well, other than the left shoulder, " and her neck was characterized as supple with adequate range of motion. (Tr. 211.) X-rays of her left shoulder revealed a hyperextension injury and a moderately severe osteoarthritis with prominent osteophytic spurring around the femoral head margins. (Tr. 218.) Hill was treated with Toradol, Ultram, and a sling. (Tr. 214.)

An imaging study taken on December 16, 2010, revealed a variety of issues with Hill's left shoulder, including osteoarthritis, tedinopathy, and acromioclavicular degenerative joint disease. (Tr. 219-20.) On December 20, 2010, Hill's orthopedist, Dr. Barry Liechty, M.D., administered a cortisone injection to Hill's left shoulder. (Tr. 221, 226.) Hill returned to work on December 21, 2010. ( See Tr. 221.) On January 7, 2011, Hill accepted a voluntary layoff. ( See Tr. 221.) Hill told Dr. Liechty that she would not pursue surgery on her left shoulder during the lay off because her health insurance was going away. ( See Tr. 221.)

On January 17, 2011, Dr. Liechty diagnosed osteoarthritis in the glenohumeral joint and mild tendinopathy in Hill's left shoulder. (Tr. 221.) On January 21, 2011, Hill met with another doctor referred by Dr. Liechty to discuss left shoulder replacement surgery. (Tr. 229.)

On May 25, 2011, Hill visited Dr. Liechty complaining of left hip and groin pain that she had experienced for about a year, knee pain that she had experienced for six months, and difficulty with walking. (Tr. 230.) The records do not indicate any complaint about Hill's right shoulder. ( See Tr. 230-31.) Dr. Liechty identified severe osteoarthritis in Hill's left hip and left knee medial pain. (Tr. 231.)

On July 5, 2011, Dr. Liechty performed the surgery for Hill's left hip replacement. (Tr. 241-42.) At that time, Hill suffered left hip severe osteoarthritis with a bony defect in the superior acetabulum. (Tr. 241.) The treatment notes reference Hill's left shoulder pain, but do not address her right shoulder. ( See Tr. 238.)

On August 8, 2011, Hill met with Dr. Liechty for a post-operation follow-up. (Tr. 317.) His treatment notes indicate that Hill stated that she was not using any assistive device, and was taking two Vicodin per week. (Tr. 317.) Dr. Liechty stated that her replacement hip was in good alignment with progressing healing. (Tr. 317.) He also noted Hill's shoulder arthritis, but did not mention her neck or spine. ( See Tr. 317.) He released Hill to work that involved no squatting, no lifting over ten pounds, and no pushing or pulling. (Tr. 320.) On August 29, 2011, Dr. Liechty released Hill to work that avoided heavy lifting, squatting, pushing, and pulling indefinitely. (Tr. 316.)

On August 20, 2011, consultative examiner Dr. David Ringel, D.O., examined Hill. (Tr. 275-78.) Dr. Ringel noted that Hill reported that she had last worked in June 2011, could dress and feed herself without difficulty, could stand one to two hours at a time and four hours out of an eight-hour work day, could walk two blocks on level ground, could sit for two hours without difficulty, could lift ten pounds, could drive for up to an hour, could do most household chores (sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, cooking, washing dishes and climbing stairs) in short intervals with breaks. (Tr. 275.) He characterized Hill as mildly obese, able to ambulate with a limp, and slow getting on and off the examination table due to her left hip, which had been replaced just over one month earlier. (Tr. 276.) He noted that she has "a little bit of stiffness in her neck, " and complained of left knee pain. (Tr. 275.) Dr. Ringel further noted that Hill required no assistive devices to walk, had 5/5 grip strength bilaterally, and good thumb-finger opposition with no abnormalities, had 5/5 motor strength in all proximal muscle groups in all four extremities, and had intact sensation in all four extremities. (Tr. 277.) He identified range of motion deficits in Hill's cervical spine, lumbar spine, hips, and both shoulders (her left shoulder being "somewhat worse" than her right). (Tr. 277-278.)

On September 18, 2011, state agency physician Dr. J. Sands, M.D., reviewed Hill's records and prepared a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment. (Tr. 281-88.) Dr. Sands opined that Hill could lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; stand and/or walk up to six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; and reach only occasionally with her left arm due to her history of severe left-arm osteoarthritis. (Tr. 282-84.) In making this RFC assessment, Dr. Sands noted "rom [range of motion] loss to lumbar spine as well as bilaterally shoulders." (Tr. 282.)

On October 4, 2011, imaging of Hill's lumbar spine indicated that vertebral body heights appeared to be preserved, with no acute bony pathology, minimal degenerative disc disease at the L3-4 and L5-S1 disc spaces with no subluxation of vertebral bodies, and minimal atherosclerotic vascular changes in associated soft-tissue. (Tr. 303.)

Dr. Sands reviewed additional evidence on October 2, 2011, but did not change his assessment of Hill's RFC. (Tr. 304.) On November 1, 2011, state agency physician Dr. M. Ruiz, M.D., also reviewed Hill's records and affirmed Dr. Sand's opinion. (Tr. 306.)

On November 10, 2011, Hill's primary care physician, Dr. Teresa Smith, M.D., diagnosed Hill with depression and treated her with Zoloft. (Tr. 335-36.) Dr. Smith's notes from that day indicate that Hill complained of pain in her left shoulder and that her gait was not abnormal, but do not reference any difficulty in sitting, standing or walking. (Tr. 335.) Dr. Smith's subsequent notes indicate that the Zoloft was helping Hill. (Tr. 332.) None of notes prepared by Dr. Smith reference any complaints about Hill's right shoulder or neck. ( See Tr. 332-38.)

Hill's Hearing Testimony

At the hearing before ALJ Bright on September 6, 2012, Hill testified that she had stopped working on June 30, 2011, because of problems with her hips and shoulders. (Tr. 29, 37.) Hill testified that she drives a couple of times a week (Tr. 31), does a little babysitting (Tr. 45), goes to church (Tr. 54), visits her mother (Tr. 54-55), and does some housework, including cooking, dishes, laundry, and vacuuming (Tr. 55-56). Hill testified that she can lift 10-15 pounds with her right arm. (Tr. 51.)

Hill testified that since her hip replacement surgery, she experienced more pain in her left femur than her hip. (Tr. 39.) She further testified that she has had back pain for a long time, including the period when she was working. (Tr. 40.) Using a ten-point scale, Hill characterized her hip pain as a three, her left shoulder pain as an eight, and her left femur pain as a five. (Tr. 60-61.) She takes ...

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