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Sharp v. Colvin

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

December 15, 2016

WILLIAM E. SHARP, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff William E. Sharp (“Sharp”) requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), which denied Sharp's applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c). Sharp asserts that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the opinion evidence of various medial sources. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ properly distributed weight to each of the medical opinions in the record.

         I. BACKGROUND


         On October 14, 2009, Sharp filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of December 31, 2001. R. at 376-379. Sharp's application was denied initially on February 10, 2010, R. at 171, and upon reconsideration on May 10, 2010. R. at 172. Sharp timely requested a hearing before the ALJ on June 2, 2010. R. at 236.

         On May 4, 2011, the ALJ held a hearing, at which Sharp, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. R. at 132-166. On September 13, 2011, the ALJ found that Sharp was not disabled. R. at 173-191.

         Sharp timely filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision on October 7, 2011, R. at 270-271. On January 17, 2013, the Appeals Counsel granted Sharp's Request for Review, vacated the ALJ's prior decision, and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. R. at 192-195. The ALJ held hearings on June 19, 2013, and April 9, 2014, at which Sharp (represented by counsel), vocational expert Constance Brown (“VE”), and medical expert Dr. James Brooks each testified. R. at 69-131. The ALJ issued a decision on May 29, 2014, finding that Sharp was not disabled. R. at 42-68. Sharp submitted a timely Request for Review of Hearing Decision to the Appeals Council on June 6, 2014, R. at 16, and the Appeals Council denied Sharp's Request for Review on September 10, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. at 1-7.

         On November 13, 2015, Sharp filed the instant appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c).


         1. Treatment Records

         In 2006, Sharp began seeking treatment for back pain that he attributed to a workplace accident that occurred in 1990. R. at 573, 592, 601. On April 24, 2006, Sharp obtained a magnetic resonance imaging report (“MRI”) that “demonstrate[d] lumbar degenerative disc disease at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1.” R. at 601. The MRI showed moderate left paracentral disc herniation with inferior extension at the L5-S1 level, which caused impingement of the left S1 root. R. at 544-545, 582-583. Additionally, the MRI displayed posterior annular fissure with disc protrusion that abutted but did not cause significant displacement of the thecal sac, and mild foraminal narrowing at the L4 and L5 levels. Id.

         On May 8, 2006, Sharp presented to Thomas M. Reilly, M.D. (“Dr. Reilly”) of the Indiana Spine Group. Id. Dr. Reilly prescribed Lortab, a short course oral steroid, and Naprosyn; outlined a home exercise program; and offered formalized physical therapy to treat Sharp's back pain. Id. Dr. Reilly further indicated that if Sharp continued to experience pain, he would require nerve root injections. Id.

         Sharp obtained an updated MRI of his lumbar spine on February 12, 2008. R. at 579, 647, 723-24, 793-94. The updated lumbar MRI revealed a slight decrease in the size of the left central herniation at ¶ 5-S1 from the previous MRI on April 24, 2006. Id.

         On February 20, 2008, Sharp again appeared for a spine consultation at the Indiana Spine Group where he was diagnosed with lumbar degenerative disc disease, facet arthropathy, and lumbar spondylosis. R. at 589, 600, 607. He was referred for a lumbar epidural injection and facet injection. Id.

         On March 4, 2008, Sharp received lumbar epidural injections and bilateral L4-5 facet joint blocks at St. Joseph Hospital. R. at 548-549, 588, 598-599, 604-605, 654, 703-704, 713-714, 727-728, 776-777, 797-798. On March 11, 2008, Sharp returned to the Indiana Spine Group and described limited relief from the lumbar injections. R. at 585, 597. Repeat injections were postponed, and Sharp was instead prescribed Soma. Id. Sharp again returned to the Indiana Spine Group on March 25, 2008, and similarly described limited relief from his injections and persistent lumbar pain. R. at 596. Although additional injections were recommended, Id., Sharp declined further injections and was not authorized to obtain additional pain medications. R. at 611.

         Sharp began treatment with Dr. Alnasir Virjee (“Dr. Virjee”) on July 15, 2008. R. at 821. Dr. Virjee noted continued spinal tenderness in August 2008, R. at 820, and prescribed refills for Sharp's medications. R. at 803-819, 873.

         On January 19, 2010, Sharp reported to Dr. Virjee that his back pain was getting worse. R. at 867. Dr. Virjee noted that Sharp's injections had been unsuccessful and that Sharp was not a surgical candidate. Id. Dr. Virjee further noted that Sharp was ...

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