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Sanders v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 27, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



Plaintiff Lisaq Gay Sanders ("Ms. Sanders") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act").[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


A. Procedural History

Ms. Sanders filed an application for DIB on January 6, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of August 19, 2010. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing on August 30, 2011. On June 19, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Roxanne Fuller (the "ALJ"). The ALJ issued a decision on August 29, 2012, finding that Ms. Sanders was not disabled from her alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. On September 27, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Sanders's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.

B. Factual Background

Ms. Sanders was 49 years old when the ALJ rendered her decision and 46 years old on her alleged disability onset date. She had a tenth-grade education, did not obtain her GED, and had not received any type of vocational training. Prior to her alleged onset date, Ms. Sanders had relevant work history as a warehouse worker. She lives with her husband, her 28-year old son, and 12-year old daughter. Ms. Sanders alleges disability due to obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, and anxiety.

Ms. Sanders complains of swelling in her legs and feet, difficulty breathing due to arthritis in her lungs, joint pain due to arthritis in her hands and knees, and anxiety attacks and slight depression. Ms. Sanders began treatment with her primary care physician, Dr. Freida Thompson, M.D. ("Dr. Thompson"), in approximately 1990. However, her treatment records only begin in August 2010 when she was seen by Dr. Elizabeth T. Le, M.D. ("Dr. Le") for complaints of joint pain and abnormal blood work. Dr. Le diagnosed Ms. Sanders with rheumatoid arthritis, and found that there was no edema present, she had full strength in both her upper and lower extremities, sensation was intact, and reflexes were within normal limits. Dr. Le also noted that Ms. Sanders's gait was normal and her cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine were within normal limits.

During the remainder of 2010, Ms. Sanders was seen several times by physician's assistant Joel Westberry, P.A.-C., who, in December 2010, referred her back to Dr. Thompson. Ms. Sanders resumed treatment with Dr. Thompson in January 2011, after having not been seen by Dr. Thompson since February 2009. She was seen by Dr. Thompson approximately six times over the following three months. Dr. Thompson noted that Ms. Sanders's neurological functioning, gait, and station were normal, and noted that she was well appearing, in no acute distress, and not chronically ill. On two occasions in 2011, Dr. Thompson completed certificates for return to work, indicating on each occasion that Ms. Sanders was unable to work for periods of approximately two months each time, but could return to work at the end of each period.

Ms. Sanders was seen again by Dr. Le on May 3, 2011, complaining of edema in her lower extremities from her ankles to her feet. Dr. Le diagnosed Ms. Sanders with presently asymptomatic rheumatoid arthritis, lower extremity edema, and generalize osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine and both shoulders. Dr. Le examined Ms. Sanders on October 2, 2011, observing that she was morbidly obese but in no apparent distress. Dr. Le's assessment remained the same from her May 2011 examination.

On April 25, 2011, Dr. William Sobat, M.D. performed a consultative physical examination of Ms. Sanders. The examination showed mild weakness in the legs and normal strength in the arms, with some weakness in the grips of both hands. Ms. Sanders had full range of motion in all joints, edema of the lower legs and ankles, and did not require an assistive device for walking. There was some limitation in forward flexion of the lumbar spine, but a straight leg raising test was negative and there was no deformity, swelling, or effusion of any joint.

On May 9, 2011, medical expert Dr. Fernando R. Montoya, M.D. ("Dr. Montoya") reviewed Ms. Sanders's claim file and completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment for the state agency. Dr. Montoya indicated that Ms. Sanders had limitations generally consistent with an ability to perform work at the light exertional level. Dr. Montoya's opinion was affirmed by a second medical expert, Dr. M. Brill, M.D., on August 2. 2011.

Dr. Thompson completed a "Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" form at the request of Ms. Sanders's attorney on June 6, 2012. The form was completed three months after Dr. Thompson had last examined Ms. Sanders. Dr. Thompson checked boxes or circled numbers on the form indicating that Ms. Sanders could, inter alia, sit for a total of no more than one hour during an eight-hour work day and stand/walk for less than one hour during an eight-hour work day. According to Dr. Thompson, due to Ms. Sanders's impairments or treatments, she would likely ...

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