United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
DANIEL K. CROFT, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, sued as Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of SSA, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins, United States Magistrate Judge.
Daniel K. Croft appeals to the district court from a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his 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 July 25, 2012. (DE 9 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 139-46). The Commissioner denied
Croft's application initially and upon reconsideration.
(AR 79-95). After a timely request, a hearing was held on
December 18, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge Patricia
Melvin (“the ALJ”), at which Croft, who was
represented by counsel; his mother; and a vocational expert,
Robert Barkhaus, Ph.D. (the “VE”), testified. (AR
36-74). On April 10, 2014, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable
decision to Croft, concluding that he was not disabled
because despite the limitations caused by his impairments, he
could perform a significant number of unskilled, light jobs
in the economy. (AR 20-29). The Appeals Council denied
Croft's request for review (AR 1-16, 260-88), 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 September 11, 2015,
seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision.
(DE 1). Croft advances just one argument in this appeal-that
the ALJ improperly discounted the credibility of his symptom
testimony concerning his physical limitations. (DE 20 at
time of the ALJ's decision, Croft was 52 years old (AR
29, 139); had a ninth grade education (AR 180, 291); and
possessed past work experience as a cable installer for
satellite television, a maintenance worker, a materials
handler, and a tow truck driver (AR 249). Croft stopped
working in July 2012. (DE 179). He alleges disability due to
lumbar spinal stenosis, lumbar spinal degenerative joint
disease, lumbar spinal degenerative disc disease, trochanter
bursitis, and post decompressive lumbar laminectomy and
lumbar fusion. (DE 20 at 2).
Croft's Testimony at the Hearing
hearing, Croft, who was five feet, 10 inches tall and weighed
185 pounds, testified that he was divorced and had custody of
his 12-year-old son. (AR 40). Croft was receiving food stamps
and Medicaid benefits. (AR 41). When asked why he thought he
could not work, Croft cited his right leg sciatica and
constant lower back pain. (AR 47). He explained that his
symptoms had started 20 years earlier, had worsened as he got
older, and had in the previous year started to interfere with
his ability to work. (AR 47). Croft testified that he had put
off having back surgery for a long time, stating that his
insurance would not cover a major surgery, he was fearful the
surgery may not help, and he could not take a year off of
work and still care for his son. (AR 58-59). However, just
two months prior to the hearing, Croft underwent back
surgery; he acknowledged that the surgery helped to reduce
his back pain and sciatica. (AR 48, 50). Croft stated that
his doctor anticipated that he would continue to experience
further improvement as well. (AR 48, 50).
described his back pain on a 10-point scale as a
“three” or “four” before surgery and
a “two” since surgery. (AR 48). His pain worsens
if he stands or walks too long, causing him to sit to relieve
his symptoms; however, he stated that extended sitting
bothers him as well. (AR 48, 50). Lying down and alternating
between sitting and activity help to reduce his pain. (AR
50). Croft stated that he tried steroid injections and
physical therapy prior to surgery, but they were unhelpful.
(AR 49). Croft testified that he was taking medications for
pain (Norco) and muscle spasms and that these medications had
been helpful since surgery, but not before. (AR 49). He
experienced no side effects from his medications, aside from
constipation. (AR 49).
stated that he could stand for 20 minutes at a time since
surgery and “hardly at all” before surgery. (AR
52). He estimated that he could sit for about an hour, but
then has to move around. (AR 52). He was on a post-surgical
three-pound lifting restriction at the time, but he could
lift 10 pounds without pain prior to surgery. (AR 53). He has
no problems pushing or pulling, climbing stairs, balancing,
and fingering, but overhead reaching bothers him “a
little bit.” (AR 53-54). He has some difficulty
sleeping and wakes often throughout the night, but his sleep
has improved since surgery; he lies down or sleeps one to two
hours during the day. (AR 60-62). He performs his own self
care, although since surgery his son has helped him to put
his legs into his pants. (AR 54). He performs almost all of
the household tasks (including doing dishes, cooking,
laundry, making beds, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom), but
he sits down intermittently during tasks; he also cares for
his son on a daily basis. (AR 52-53, 55-57, 62). Croft drives
a car and shops for groceries, but his son takes out the
garbage and does the yard work. (AR 54-56).
Summary of the Relevant Medical Evidence
March 2008, Croft visited Michael Arata, M.D., an orthopedic
surgeon, concerning a 20-year history of low back discomfort
that sometimes affected his legs and worsened with sitting,
standing, or walking. (AR 342-43). He was working at Wayne
Metal at the time. (AR 342). Physical exam findings were
normal. (AR 342). X-rays showed some diffuse, fairly mild
degenerative changes of the lumbar spine and mild
retrolisthesis at ¶ 4-5. (AR 343). An MRI showed mild to
moderate spinal stenosis at ¶ 3-4 and desiccated disks
at ¶ 3-4 and L4-5, possibly L5 and S1. (AR 343). Dr.
Arata diagnosed discogenic low back pain with associated mild
to moderate L3-4 stenosis. (AR 343).
November 2008, Croft saw David Ringel, D.O., for his low back
pain. (AR 306). He reported that he had received three spinal
injections, but that only one had helped. (AR 306). Although
Croft stated that his back pain had worsened, he was still
working at the time and was not interested in undergoing
surgery. (AR 306).
December 2008 and January 2009, Croft consulted Steven Hatch,
M.D., a pain management specialist, for his low back pain.
(AR 344-48). Dr. Hatch prescribed Vicodin and recommended
that Croft receive additional spinal injections. (AR 348).
two years later, in December 2010, Croft returned to Dr.
Ringel with complaints of back pain. (AR 305). He had started
a new job and needed pain medication. (AR 305). On physical
exam, Croft had bilateral lumbar back spasm, right lumbar
pain, and right sciatic pain. (AR 305). Dr. Ringel prescribed
Norco and Soma. (AR 305).
2011, Croft saw Dr. Ringel, reporting that Norco and Soma did
help but that he still experienced some sharp pain. (AR 303).
Croft did not want to undergo a surgical fusion. (AR 303). On
physical exam, he had a back spasm bilaterally at T-4, pain
at the right SI joint, and right sciatic pain; he could flex
to 60 degrees, bend 20 degrees to the side, and walk on his
toes. (AR 303). Dr. Ringel added Nubain to his medications.
year later, in June 2012, Croft returned to Dr. Ringel,
reporting that there was no change in his back pain. (AR
299). Dr. Ringel noted bilateral lumbar spasm and severe pain
in the right sciatic notch. (AR 299).
October 2012, Croft underwent a physical examination by H.M.
Bacchus, Jr., M.D., at the request of Social Security. (AR
325-27). Croft stated that he had stopped working a few
months earlier-on or about July 2012. (AR 325). Dr. Bacchus
noted tenderness to palpitation and range of motion
throughout the lumbrosacral spine and also pain in the right
sciatic notch. (AR 326). A straight leg raising test was
positive on the right but negative on the left. (AR 326). His
gait was antalgic and favored his right lower leg, but was
steady with fair sustainability. (AR 326). His tandem walk
was slightly clumsy, and he had a poor hop, worse on the
right that on the left; he could squat one-third of the way
down. (AR 326). His muscle strength was normal, except that
his right lower leg was 4/5. (AR 326). X-rays showed bone
spurs at ¶ 3-4 and L5; decreased intervertebral disc
space at ¶ 3-4, severe at ¶ 4-5, and almost a total
loss at ¶ 5-S1; and bone bridging between L3-4 and L4-5,
with the left worse than the right. (AR 326). In sum, X-rays
showed degenerative joint disease (mild at ¶ 1, L2, left
sacroiliac joint, and right hip; moderate at ¶ 3; and
moderate to severe at ¶ 4 and L5) and degenerative disc
disease (mild at ¶ 3-4 and moderately severe at ¶
4-5 and L5-S1). (AR 326). Dr. Bacchus's impression was
chronic low back pain with right sciatica, degenerative joint
disease, degenerative disc disease, knee pain, depression
(treated with medication), hypertension (treated with