United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
DINAH C. WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, sued as Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of SSA, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins, United States Magistrate Judge.
Dinah C. Washington appeals to the district court from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application under
the Social Security Act (the “Act”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). (DE 1). For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.
applied for DIB and SSI in August 2012, alleging disability
as of February 12, 2012. (DE 11 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 228-35). The Commissioner denied
Washington's application initially and upon
reconsideration. (AR 160-85). After a timely request, a
hearing was held on October 7, 2013, before Administrative
Law Judge William D. Pierson (“the ALJ”), at
which Washington, who was represented by counsel; her
husband; and a vocational expert, Marie Kieffer (the
“VE”), testified. (AR 38-86). On January 17,
2014, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Washington,
concluding that she was not disabled because despite the
limitations caused by her impairments, she could perform her
past work as a hairdresser and a production assembler, as
well as a significant number of other light jobs in the
economy. (AR 24-33). The Appeals Council denied
Washington's request for review (AR 1-16), at which point
the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
filed a complaint with this Court on July 24, 2015, seeking
relief from the Commissioner's final decision. (DE 1).
Washington advances just one argument in her appeal-that the
ALJ improperly rejected the permanent restrictions assigned
by her treating physician, Alex Meyers, M.D. (DE 19 at 8-10).
time of the ALJ's decision, Washington was 52 years old
(AR 124); had a high school education (AR 44, 257); and
possessed past work experience as a warehouse worker, machine
operator, and hairdresser (AR 298). She alleges disability
due to left shoulder impingement syndrome/tendinopathy, left
clavicular degenerative joint disease, fibromyalgia, cervical
degenerative joint disease, post left CS injection at carpal
canal, post left shoulder arthroscopy, post left shoulder
distal clavicle excision, and renal dysfunction. (DE 19 at
Washington's Testimony at the Hearing
hearing, Washington, who is left handed, testified that she
stopped working due to problems with her left shoulder. (AR
53). Although her shoulder has improved over time, she still
experiences aching in her shoulder, as well as intermittent
numbness in her left arm. (AR 54-55). She can reach overhead
with her left arm, but it is difficult to do so and causes
her discomfort. (AR 55). Washington takes Cymbalta for her
shoulder, which “calms it down, ” and also has
prescription pain medication; however, she takes the pain
medication sparingly (just three times in two weeks) and
instead takes Tylenol. (AR 60).
uses her left arm to clean her house, but she does so in
spurts. (AR 56, 75-76). She used to be able to clean her
house in one day; now it takes her several days. (AR 56). She
uses her left arm to sweep, cook, and wash dishes; however,
she uses her right arm to lift heavier items. (AR 57, 70).
Stirring and gripping with her left hand causes her pain, so
she makes simple meals. (AR 58). She can perform her own self
care. (AR 70). She has difficulty holding her grandchildren
longer than 30 minutes. (AR 59). She drives up to three times
a week to go shopping and to doctor appointments, but her
husband drives if they go out of town. (AR 43-44).
also complained of pain in her low back and in her feet. (AR
60-61). She stated that her foot pain has improved since
getting different shoes; when her foot pain does flare up,
she can “walk it out” in about six minutes. (AR
61-62). She does not take pain medication for her feet. (AR
65). She had been walking up to three miles a day in an
effort to lose weight, but her physician cut her back to 30
minutes on flat surfaces only. (AR 62-64). She props her feet
up five hours a day. (AR 75). Washington takes pain
medication for her back sparingly; about four times a month,
she lies on a hard surface with a heating pad on her back and
her feet up on a stool. (AR 64).
also complained of fibromyalgia symptoms, stating that
Cymbalta helps with those as well. (AR 64-65). On a scale of
one to 10, Washington rated her fibromyalgia pain as a
“four” when taking Cymbalta and an
“eight” when without Cymbalta. (AR 66). She
complained of “memory fog, ” fatigue, difficulty
sleeping, and pain when touched. (AR 65-67, 69). She takes
medication to aid her sleep, which helps, but it also causes
her some daytime drowsiness. (AR 67-68). She lies on the
couch watching television for eight or nine hours a day. (AR
67). Washington also complained of neck pain, which causes a
“tired feeling” and sometimes a burning
sensation. (AR 69). In the past, she received injections for
her neck, which were helpful. (AR 69).
estimated that she could walk up to 20 minutes and stand for
10 minutes before her back, left knee, and left foot start
aching and swelling. (AR 70-71). She can lift five pounds
with her left arm and 10 pounds with both arms. (AR 71, 73).
She complained of difficulty gripping items and writing with
her left hand. (AR 73-74). She uses pillows behind her back
when she sits in a chair, and she puts her feet up. (AR 72).
Sitting at a computer screen bothers her neck. (AR 72). She
reported medication side effects of dizziness, drowsiness,
rapid heart rate, poor eyesight, and headaches. (AR 68, 73).
Summary of the Relevant Medical Evidence
2011, Washington saw Sarah Thomas, M.D., twice for complaints
of pain in her low back, knees, and “all over.”
(AR 400). Injections in her left knee and elbow were
administered at her first visit, and she was referred to
physical therapy and prescribed non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (“NSAIDs”). (AR 404). Dr.
Thomas put her off work for two weeks. (AR 404). At her
second visit, Thomas stated that she had not taken the NSAIDs
as prescribed at her previous visit. (AR 400). She felt that
she could not return to work and was considering applying for
disability. (AR 400). On exam, her muscle strength and tone
were normal, but she had tenderness in her elbows and in her
lower spine. (AR 401).
September 2011, Washington returned to Dr. Thomas complaining
of pain in her feet and pain in her left shoulder which
radiated down her left arm to her index finger. (AR 397). On
exam, Washington exhibited full range of motion of her
shoulder, but abduction and external rotation were painful;
impingement was noted with abduction and flexion. (AR 398).
She was assessed with lateral epicondylitis of the left
elbow, low back pain, cervicalgia, and rotator cuff
tendonitis. (AR 399). She was given an injection in her left
shoulder and instructed to avoid lifting more than five
pounds with her left arm for two weeks. (AR 399).
January 2012, Washington saw Alex Meyers, M.D., a hand
surgeon, for a three-year history of left arm pain. (AR 336).
He noted that she had undergone five injections in her
shoulder, several series of physical therapy, and an MRI. (AR
336). On exam, Washington had some tenderness to palpation
over the greater tuberosity and pain with resisted external
rotation. (AR 336). Her strength was 4, limited only by
pain. (AR 336). She had moderate tenderness over the
acromio-clavicular joint, and cross body abduction was
painful. (AR 336). A dorsomedial nerve compression test,
Phalen's and reverse Phalen's tests, and a
Tinel's test were all positive. (AR 336). An MRI showed
supraspinatus anterior tendinopathy and edema that indicated
at least a partial thickness tear, if not a full thickness
tear. (AR 336). Associated acromioclavicular arthropathy and
subacromial bursitis were present. (AR 336). Dr. Meyers's
impression was left shoulder pain consistent with rotator
cuff tendinopathy and peripheral compressive neuropathy with
reported EMG positive carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR 336).
Because non-operative treatment had failed and the symptoms
were affecting Washington's sleep and daily living
activities, Dr. Meyers recommended Washington undergo an
arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, as well as a left carpal
tunnel release. (AR 336). However, he wanted to review her
MRI and EMG reports before proceeding. (AR 337).
February 2, 2012, Dr. Meyers performed a left shoulder
arthroscopy and left shoulder distal clavicle excision on
Washington. (AR 362). Because an EMG report was normal, Dr.
Meyers opted to administer a cortisone injection into her
left carpal tunnel, rather than perform a surgical release.
(AR 362). Several days after surgery, Washington was doing
well, demonstrating passive forward flexion to 120 degrees
and 40 degrees external rotation. (AR 338). Dr. Meyers
encouraged her to participate in physical therapy. (AR 338).
that month, Washington was seen by Dr. Thomas for followup.
(AR 394). She was receiving physical therapy three times a
week for her left shoulder. (AR 394). She complained of low
back pain and “hurting all over, ” that she had
pain upon touch, and that she had difficulty sleeping due to
pain; Mobic helped reduce her pain. (AR 394). She
demonstrated restricted range of motion in her left shoulder,
and fibromyalgia trigger points were positive in all 18
regions. (AR 396). Dr. Thomas's impression was
fibromyalgia, low back pain, left rotator cuff tendonitis and
subacromial bursitis, and left carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR
March 2012, Washington saw Eugene MacDonald, M.D., a
podiatrist, for heel pain when weight bearing. (AR 378). He
indicated that Washington could return to work on May 2,
2012, but must avoid prolonged standing and any squatting,
bending, stooping, or using ladders. (AR 382).
March 2012, Washington returned to Dr. Thomas for followup on
her plantar fasciitis. (AR 391-93). She had been prescribed
an orthotic and medication, but had stopped taking at least
one medication on her own; she was still participating in
physical therapy. (AR 391). She also complained of tightness
in her back and shoulder muscles, and she continued to have
pain and restriction of movement in her left shoulder. (AR
391). She complained of two-day “flares” in her
pain, where she hurts all over and stays in bed. (AR 391).
Upon exam, 13 of 18 fibromyalgia trigger points were
positive. (AR 392). Dr. Thomas adjusted her medications and
recommended that she perform stretches and apply heat. (AR
a March 26, 2012, appointment, Dr. Meyers noted that
Washington was seven weeks post surgery, that she was
progressing in therapy, and that her pain was improving. (AR
339). She demonstrated active flexion to 130 degrees, active
abduction to 120 degrees, external rotation to 70 degrees,
and internal rotation to the lumbar spine; she demonstrated
good cuff strength. (AR 339). Dr. Meyers instructed
Washington to continue therapy, stating ...