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Cottrell v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2015

JONATHON COTTRELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

Plaintiff Jonathon Cottrell (“Mr. Cottrell”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.[1] For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

On October 16, 2009, Mr. Cottrell filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2005. His claims initially were denied on January 29, 2010, and again on reconsideration on March 25, 2010. Mr. Cottrell filed a written request for a hearing. On March 16, 2011, a hearing was held via video conference before Administrative Law Judge William M. Manico (the “ALJ”). Mr. Cottrell participated in the hearing and was represented by counsel. On March 28, 2011, the ALJ denied Mr. Cottrell’s applications for DIB and SSI. On August 27, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Cottrell’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision, thereby making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. On October 16, 2013, Mr. Cottrell filed this action for judicial review of the ALJ’s decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. Factual Background

At the time of his alleged disability onset date, Mr. Cottrell was 48 years old, and he was 54 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. Mr. Cottrell received a GED through the military. His employment history includes working as a machine operator, forklift operator, and custodian. His last employment was with a temporary employment agency doing labor jobs, but he worked only a half day and left because of pain in his back and hips. Mr. Cottrell has not worked since 2005.

Mr. Cottrell suffers from degenerative disc disease and rheumatoid arthritis, resulting in pain and problems in his lower back, lower spine, hips, knees, and ankles. He also suffers from peptic ulcers. Mr. Cottrell has an organic mental disorder (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), an affective disorder (major depressive disorder), and an anxiety related disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”)). He takes medication to treat his depression.

Mr. Cottrell began experiencing back and neck pain in 1995. He asserts that his pain became debilitating in 2005, leading to an inability to work. His medical records show that Anthony A. Smith, M.D. (“Dr. Smith”) performed a neurologic evaluation of Mr. Cottrell in April 2009. Dr. Smith observed that Mr. Cottrell’s gait and station were antalgic, meaning they were abnormal in order to avoid pain while walking or standing. Dr. Smith gave the opinion that Mr. Cottrell had diffuse radiculopathy, [2] resulting in a “marked reduction in residual functional capacity.” (Filing No. 13-7 at 2.) He noted that Mr. Cottrell “may need EMG studies to further evaluate his symptoms.” Id.

A May 11, 2009 electromyographic (“EMG”)[3] test showed “bilateral irritative changes, multiple lumbosacral spinal nerve roots.” (Filing No. 13-7 at 5.) An August 24, 2009 lumbar spine MRI showed “stable minimal degenerative changes.” (Filing No. 13-7 at 10.) And an August 24, 2009 thoracic spine x-ray showed “no evidence of a compression fracture or disc space narrowing” and “no significant degenerative changes.” (Filing No. 13-7 at 11.)

On August 24, 2009, Mr. Cottrell saw pain management specialist Peter Klim, D.O. (“Dr. Klim”) (Filing No. 13-7 at 12–14). Mr. Cottrell denied any neurological symptoms, and his physical examination was normal, including a slow, stable gait, normal strength and muscle tone, normal sensation, and negative straight leg raising. Mr. Cottrell refused to attempt lumbar extension or rotation because of fear of experiencing back pain.

On October 29, 2009, shortly after Mr. Cottrell had submitted his applications for DIB and SSI, Dr. Smith opined that Mr. Cottrell would be “unable to tolerate [light work] even for a single day” because of nerve root irritation in his neck and back (Filing No. 13-9 at 86). Dr. Smith also completed a “Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related Activities” in which he opined that Mr. Cottrell could occasionally lift and carry up to ten pounds, sit for one hour at a time and only two hours total in an eight-hour workday, stand or walk for one hour at a time and one hour total in an eight-hour workday, and occasionally use his hands for grasping and fine manipulation (Filing No. 13-9 at 88–91). He further opined that Mr. Cottrell could never stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl, and could only occasionally reach, handle, feel, push, and pull. Id.

Dr. Klim’s medical record for Mr. Cottrell’s October 20, 2009 office visit noted lumbar spine tenderness and a gait imbalance but normal sensation (Filing No. 13-8 at 80–81). Dr. Klim recommended a lumbar facet joint nerve block procedure with a follow-up appointment to assess Mr. Cottrell’s response to the injections. Id. On November 4, 2009, Mr. Cottrell underwent surgery with fluoroscopy to inject nerve blocks (Filing No. 13-8 at 83–84).

At Mr. Cottrell’s follow-up appointment on December 29, 2009, Dr. Klim noted that Mr. Cottrell realized more than 80% pain relief from the procedure for the duration of the local anesthetic. His back pain had since returned, but he explained that he had fallen on ice the week before. Dr. Klim noted that Mr. Cottrell’s gait and station were normal and that his neurological sensation was intact (Filing No. 13-8 at 85–86). Mr. Cottrell received the same nerve block procedure again on January 13, 2010.

In January 2010, Mr. Cottrell underwent consultative examinations (Filing No. 13-8 at 47, 54). Mr. Cottrell walked with a cane but his gait was steady, sustainable, and within normal limits. The examinations revealed normal strength and sensation, negative straight leg raising, and no difficulty picking up a coin, buttoning, and ...


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