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Bone v. Colvin

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

February 13, 2015

ANNA KATHLEEN BONE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PHILIP P. SIMON, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Anna Bone appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her application for disability insurance benefits. An administrative law judge denied Bone's request for benefits and found that Bone was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bone argues that the ALJ erred by failing to credit the opinions of her treating physicians. But because those opinions were inconsistent with the objective evidence, the ALJ correctly rejected them. For that reason, the decision of the ALJ will be affirmed.

BACKGROUND

Those looking for a detailed discussion of Bone's medical records are directed to the extensive summaries in the ALJ's decision (R. 21-37) and in Bone's opening brief [DE 30 at 6-14]. Rather than simply reiterating those summaries, I will give a brief overview of Bone's history of health issues.

Bone is a thirty-five year-old college graduate who worked for several years as a sign language interpreter in San Diego schools. (R. 52-54.)[1] Starting in 2005, she began to experience tendinitis pain in her hands and elbows. (R. 58-59.) Bone managed to continue working for a couple of years under medical restrictions. But, in November 2007, the tendinitis became so bad that Bone had to stop. Id. She has not worked since.

Bone has other physical problems including calcaneal spurs in her heels, joint pain, and degenerative disc disease. Additionally, Bone underwent spinal fusion surgery in December 2009 to ease her chronic back pain. (R. 29-30.)

But notwithstanding these considerable problems, the focus of this appeal is Bone's narcolepsy, of which she has a long history. She testified that she experienced narcoleptic symptoms, including cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness), night terrors, and daytime sleepiness dating back to childhood. (R. 56-57.) She was diagnosed as narcoleptic in 2003. Although narcolepsy cannot be cured, the symptoms can be controlled and Bone has taken a range of medication to try and control the narcolepsy. Since 2005, Bone's primary medication has been Xyrem. (R. 1108.) Xyrem is a strong sedative that helps Bone sleep through the night. (R. 61.) She also takes an amphetamine during the day to combat her daytime sleepiness. (R. 1415.)

Bone applied for disability benefits on October 5, 2010, alleging an onset date of November 28, 2007. The claims were denied initially, and then again upon reconsideration. Subsequently, Bone filed a written request for a hearing. At the hearing, Bone testified along with a vocational expert. Bone testified that she suffered from narcolepsy, tendinitis, and chronic back and neck pain. (R. 47-93.)

The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (R. 21-37.) At Step One, the ALJ found that Bone met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 28, 2007, the alleged onset date. At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Bone had the following severe impairments: narcolepsy; epicondylitis, worse on the right; bilateral calcaneal spurs; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; and status/post lumbar fusion. The ALJ found Bone also suffered from depression, but that the depression was a non-severe impairment.

At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Bone does not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling one of the listed impairments. At Step Four, the ALJ found that Bone had the capacity for sedentary work, with the following limitations: Bone can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. She can frequently, but not constantly, use her hands for handling and fingering bilaterally, but can no more than occasionally perform overhead lifting bilaterally. Moreover, she should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold or heat.

At Step Five, the ALJ found that Bone could not perform any past relevant work but that there was a sufficiently significant number of jobs in the national economy that she could perform.

DISCUSSION

My review of an ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). "Evidence is substantial if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support the conclusion." Id. The question before me is not whether or not Bone is disabled, but whether there is substantial evidence in the record supporting the ALJ's decision that she is not disabled. Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977 (7th Cir. 1996). In other words, the ALJ's decision, if supported by substantial evidence and reached under the correct legal standard, will be upheld even if reasonable minds could differ as to the appropriate conclusion. See Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

To receive disability benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must be "disabled" as defined by the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). A claimant is deemed to be disabled if she is unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Moreover, a claimant's physical or mental impairment or impairments must be of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, ...


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