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Tichenor v. Colvin

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

March 30, 2015

CARRUTHA C. TICHENOR, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Carrutha C. Tichenor ("Ms. Tichenor") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), and for Social Security Supplemental Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Ms. Tichenor filed applications for DIB and SSI on November 16, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of September 30, 2008. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing on May 10, 2011. On March 13, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge T. Whitaker (the "ALJ"). The ALJ issued a decision on July 27, 2012, finding that Ms. Tichenor was not disabled from her alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. On October 22, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Tichenor's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.

B. Factual Background

Ms. Tichenor was 49 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision and 45 years old on her alleged disability onset date. She has past work experience as a cashier, deli clerk, and mail sorter. Ms. Tichenor alleges disability due to back and leg pain, depression and anxiety.

1. Back and leg pain medical evidence

Ms. Tichenor initially complained of leg and back pain in May 2009. She was examined by Dr. Mark Fakhoury, M.D., who found that Ms. Tichenor was neurologically intact and had full range of motion in her lumbar spine. She was referred to physical therapy but reported that it did not help. In January 2010, Ms. Tichenor complained of severe back pain, but her examination showed normal sensation and negative straight leg raising test. A March 2010 MRI of Ms. Tichenor's lumbar spine showed mild S-shaped thoracolumbar scoliosis and multilevel lumbar spine degenerative changes without evidence of focal disc herniation, nerve root impingement, or significant spinal stenosis.

In May 2010, Ms. Tichenor complained of back, knee, and hip pain. An examination showed mild knee crepitus, and a knee x-ray found no acute radiographic abnormalities. A spine x-ray showed mild scoliosis of her low back, and a hip x-ray showed no significant degenerative changes of the hips. A November 2010 MRI showed no changes from the May 2010 findings. A November 2010 EMG of Ms. Tichenor's left leg and right arm showed no electrodiagnostic evidence of compression neuropathy involving the left leg or right arm.

On January 6, 2011, Ms. Tichenor underwent an evaluation for back pain and scoliosis with Dr. Nina Dereska, M.D. ("Dr. Dereska"), a consultative examiner. Ms. Tichenor reported that she had been injured at work by a falling object in 2005, with resulting worsening lumbar spine pain which radiated to the left buttock and left lateral thigh. Dr. Dereska's examination of Ms. Tichenor's mid and low back showed no muscle spasms, no tenderness to palpation, and no apparent kyphosis or obvious scoliosis. She had mildly decreased flexion of the lumbosacral spine, causing moderate pain. Ms. Tichenor's straight leg raise was positive on the left and negative on the right. She had intact sensation; normal reflexes; and normal motor strength with the exception of mildly decreased strength in her left hip flexion and left knee extension. Examination of Ms. Tichenor's hips, knees, elbows, wrists, and shoulders were within normal range of motion, although hip mobility caused moderate distress due to back pain. Dr. Dereska concluded that numerous prior evaluations had all been normal with no obvious etiology of her back pain, and opined that scoliosis was not a typical condition that would result in back or leg pain unless the scoliosis was severe.

In February 2012, Ms. Tichenor's primary care physician, Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs, M.D. ("Dr. Cobbs"), completed a functional evaluation based upon her diagnosis of scoliosis of fifteen degrees with radicular back pain. Dr. Cobbs opined that Ms. Tichenor was unable to perform any lifting, bending, stooping, prolonged or brief sitting or standing, pulling or pushing. Further, she concluded that Ms. Tichenor could sit for thirty minutes and could stand and walk in combination for thirty minutes in an eight hour work day. Her lifting and carrying were limited to five pounds, and she could not push or pull arm controls. Dr. Cobbs also prescribed Ms. Tichenor with a cane to assist her with walking.

2. Depression and anxiety medical evidence

In March 2011, Ms. Tichenor was treated at her primary care clinic for depression. She reported having sleep problems, feelings of isolation, loss of interest, and poor memory and concentration due to depression. Ms. Tichenor was prescribed Celexa and referred to a social worker to treat her depression. Later that month, Ms. Tichenor saw her primary care physician, Dr. Cobbs, who instructed her to ...


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