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Fields v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

September 30, 2016

BONNIE L. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Bonnie Fields seeks review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse the Commissioner's decision and award benefits, or in the alternative, remand the decision for further proceedings. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.

         A. Procedural Background

         On January 10, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DIB alleging that she became disabled on September 27, 2011. (R. 9.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied and again upon reconsideration. (R. 68-71, 72-75.)

         On July 9, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (R. 21- 64.) On September 20, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied her DIB claim. (R. 9- 6.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with certain non-exertional limitations. (R. 13.)

         On January 6, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-3.) Plaintiff now requests judicial review of the ALJ's decision denying her DIB claim.

         B. Factual Background

         (1) Plaintiff's Background

         Plaintiff was born on January 6, 1957, and was 54 years old at the time of the alleged onset date of her disabling condition. (R. 169.) She graduated from high school and completed one year of college. (R. 28, 173.) Plaintiff previously worked as a general manager at a fast food restaurant for fifteen years. (R. 173.)

         (2) Overview of Medical Evidence

         Medical records from 2011 through 2013 document that Plaintiff suffers from a number of severe ailments, including degenerative disc disease in her cervical and lumbar spines, and arthritis in her thoracic spine. (R. 254, 292.) An MRI of Plaintiff's cervical spine indicated mild to moderate broad-based posterior disc osteophyte complexes at ¶ 4-C5 and C6-C7, bilateral foraminal narrowing, and bilateral joint hypertrophy. Id. She underwent a partial fusion of her cervical spine at ¶ 5-C6. Id. Plaintiff's neck showed a decreased range of motion with flexion, extension, and side bending rotation to the right. (R. 52, 308.) A CT indicated chronic moderate facet arthritic changes bilaterally at ¶ 4-L5. (R. 259.) She was also diagnosed with facet arthritis at ¶ 8-T9. (R. 316.) Plaintiff's bone scan indicated subtle focal uptake in the dorsal spine at ¶ 8 or T9. (R. 256.) Plaintiff was initially prescribed Percocet for her back pain and later took over-the-counter Ibuprofen. (R. 36, 308, 313.)

         Plaintiff suffers from additional chronic health problems. She has migraine headaches and requires Imitrex injections to treat her symptoms. (R. 34, 307.) Plaintiff has dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and her physician diagnosed Schatzki's ring (a narrowing of the lower esophagus) with reactive squamous change. (R. 275, 277, 281, 282, 301.) This condition is compounded by a small to moderate sized hiatal hernia and erosive gastropathy. (R. 272.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with obesity and prescribed Fastin for weight loss. (R. 307-08.) She also receives treatment for depression, anxiety, upper right quadrant neuropathic pain, hyperplastic and adenomatous polyps, incontinence, chronic bronchitis, hypertension, and hypokalemia (potassium deficiency). (R. 265, 270, 271, 279, 285, 307, 311, 313-15, 363.)

         (3) Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified she became disabled on September 27, 2011, as a result of severe headaches and back and neck pain. (R. 29.) She took a three-month medical leave from work and, when she returned to work, in January 2012, she learned her position had been filled. (R. 29-31.) Plaintiff testified she did not have health insurance and could not afford to go to the doctor. (R. 33, 42-43.) She suffered from migraine headaches for many years and Imitrex helped to alleviate her symptoms if the injection was given at the onset of the headache and she was able to lie down. (R. 34.) Plaintiff explained her headaches often lasted for two to three days and she woke up ...

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