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Mitchell v. Colvin

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

June 26, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff Prudence Anessa Mitchell ("Ms. Mitchell") 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"). For the reasons below, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.


A. Procedural History

On April 18, 2011, Ms. Mitchell, filed her application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of September 10, 2010. The Commissioner denied the claim by notice of initial determination dated June 28, 2011, and on reconsideration by notice dated September, 12, 2011. On November 8, 2011, Ms. Mitchell filed a request for a hearing. A hearing was held on September 21, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge Michael Hellman ("the ALJ"). In addition, Mr. Randall L. Harding, an impartial vocational expert, appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. Ms. Mitchell participated in the hearing and was represented by counsel. On November 13, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Ms. Mitchell benefits and a timely appeal was filed on November 26, 2012. On May 1, 2014, the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and denied Ms. Mitchell'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.

B. Factual Background

Ms. Mitchell was 39 years old at the time of her alleged onset date. She has a 12th grade education. Prior to her alleged onset date of September 10, 2010, Ms. Mitchell had relevant work history as a warehouse worker, real estate agent, night front desk clerk, and a bookkeeper. Her most recent job was a warehouse associate and gift wrapper at Amazon. At the time of her hearing, Ms. Mitchell was single and lived with her four sons, ages 17, 15, 13, and 9. She alleges disability due to lumbar stenosis, radicular syndrome of lower limbs, myofascitis, lumbar spondylosis, obesity, degenerative disc disease, neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, lumber spondylosis with myelopathy and degenerative back disease, 4-6 discs in thoracic lumbar spine impingement, neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, attention deficit disorder ("ADD"), memory loss, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and hidradenitis suppurativa.

Ms. Mitchell complains of back pain. At the time of the incident precipitating her pain, Ms. Mitchell was attempting to pick up a heavy box during her shift at an Amazon warehouse. She heard a pop in her back followed by excruciating pain. Ms. Mitchell complained of decreased trunk rotation and inability to swing her arms and the pain was constant and throbbing and often worsened when she was active or bent forward. An August 2011 MRI of the thoracic spine showed a disc protrusion at T11-T12 on the left side. Dr. Vinayak C. Belamkar, M.D. recommended physical therapy. In October, Dr. Belamkar noted that based upon Ms. Mitchell's complaints and his assessment that she would be able to sit and stand for only 20 minutes at a time but then would need a break every 15 to 20 minutes for 10 minutes to change positions. Dr. Belamkar noted that the duration of these restrictions will be lifelong.

Ms. Mitchell also experiences carpal tunnel syndrome. An EMG and nerve conduction study, which were done on December 22, 2010, revealed possible mild to moderate right carpal tunnel syndrome. Neurological examinations on November 5, 2010 and April 5, 2011 revealed normal grip strength and normal sensation. Additionally, motor examinations on February 7, 2011 and August 4, 2011 did not reveal any arm drift, weakness, fasciculations, tremor or abnormal tone. Consultative physician Kenny Chuu, M.D. ("Dr. Chuu"), [1] saw Ms. Mitchell on June 15, 2011. On examination, all joints were normal. There was no inflammation or effusion of any joint. Muscle strength and tone were normal. There was no atrophy or muscle spasm. Motor and sensory systems were intact. Grip strength was normal and fine finger skills were normal.

Although Ms. Mitchell's back problems are the bulk of her disability, she also alleges that she suffers from anxiety, depression, ADD, and PTSD. She also claims that the 2010 back injury also exacerbates her mental conditions. Ms. Mitchell states that her mental health deterioration can also be traced back to when she was in an emotionally abusive marriage. In 2011 and 2013 mental health evaluations, Ms. Mitchell admitted feeling depressed, she had little interest in anything, she often felt down, depressed or helpless, and she believed she had failed herself and her family because she could no longer do the things she used to. She often experiences hopelessness, sadness and difficulty sleeping as a result of her increasing depression.

Consultative physician Matthew G. Grant, Psy. D., HSPP ("Dr. Grant") saw Ms. Mitchell on June 14, 2011. Ms. Mitchell denied a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and reported that she had never been prescribed psychotropic medications in the past. On mental status examination, Dr. Grant concluded that there was no significant evidence of a thought disorder. Based upon the examination and reported history, Ms. Mitchell's memory, impulse control, judgment, and insight were judged to be within normal limits at the time of the evaluation. In October 12, 2011, Ms. Mitchell also saw Dr. Matthew T. Bobzien, M.D. ("Dr. Bobzien") for attention deficit and PTSD. He prescribed Adderall to Ms. Mitchell.

In 2012, Dr. Bobzien wrote a general statement indicating he had treated Ms. Mitchell for over two years and believed she was disabled and unable to work given the severity of her back injuries and in combination with her attention deficit disorder, memory loss and other symptoms. There is no evidence or medical findings completed by Dr. Bobzien. However, there are medical findings and opinions in writing from Dr. Bobzien's Nurse Practitioner, Deanna Stopperich. The nurse practitioner states Ms. Mitchell would never be able to climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Additionally, the nurse practitioner noted Ms. Mitchell cannot bend/twist, kneel, crawl, sit, stand, walk, climb stairs, climb ladders, push/pull, overhead reach, at shoulder reach, below shoulder reach, rotation of head/neck, use hands for repetitive motion, do simple grasping motions or work a forty hour work week.


Disability is defined as the "inability 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. ยง 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of ...

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