United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
NICOLE L. STOLARZ-SPEJEWSKI, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
PAUL R. CHERRY, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Nicole L. Stolarz-Spejewski on November 19, 2013, and Plaintiff's Opening Brief [DE 26], filed on January 19, 2015. This matter became fully briefed on March 16, 2015. Plaintiff challenges the Social Security Administration's determination that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act, asking that the Court remand this case for further consideration or simply order an award of benefits.
Plaintiff has a long history of back pain and scoliosis. She underwent a spinal fusion surgery in 2000, at age twelve. This controlled her scoliosis for a time. But starting around 2009, she began having increased pain in her back as well as in her neck. She also suffered from intense headaches. Medical examinations revealed that rods that had been surgically placed in her back nearly a decade earlier had broken and that her spine had twisted. An MRI also revealed that the normal curvature of her neck had straightened out somewhat. In December 2010, Plaintiff underwent a pair of back surgeries that fused parts of her thoracic spine and removed the broken rods.
In later follow-up examinations, she reported that her back pain had improved and that she could sit for up to three hours at a time, but she complained that her neck pain had not gotten any better. She eventually inquired about undergoing acupuncture to treat her neck pain and headaches, complaining that she suffered from migraines associated with nausea and that these lasted between six hours and two days. This led to a diagnosis of post-surgical migraines and chronic neck pain.
Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income in August 2010, alleging that she had been disabled since February 2010 due to scoliosis. The agency denied her application initially, in November 2010, and upon reconsideration, in March 2011. Plaintiff then asked for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which took place on May 17, 2012, before ALJ Henry Kramzyk. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel at the hearing, as well as from Plaintiff's mother and Vocational Expert Leonard Fisher. The ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits on June 22, 2012, making the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2011.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 23, 2010, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: status post thoracic spine surgery; degenerative disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spines; scoliosis; migraine headaches secondary to cervical kyphosis; and obesity.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medially equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift/carry and push/pull 10 pounds occasionally and less weights frequently; sit for a total of 6 hours a day; and stand and/or walk for 2 hours a day. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, and crouch. She can never kneel or crawl.
6. The claimant has no past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born in 1988 and was 21 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged onset date.
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not ...