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Renner v. Berryhill

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

March 7, 2017

LAURA A. RENNER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Laura A. Renner (“Renner”) requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), who denied Renner's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C § 423(d). Renner asserts that (1) the ALJ failed to properly assess the credibility of Renner's testimony and (2) the ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of Renner's treating physician. See generally, Dkt. No. 10. The Commissioner contends that the substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings and that the ALJ adequately explained his reasoning for finding that Renner was not disabled. See generally, Dkt. No. 17.

         I. BACKGROUND


         Renner filed her application for DIB on January 23, 2013, alleging that her disability began on December 22, 2012. R. at 140-143. The claim was denied initially on March 27, 2013, R. at 69-72, and upon reconsideration on May 10, 2013. R. at 74-76. Renner timely requested a hearing before the ALJ on June 5, 2013. R. at 78-79.

         On October 9, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing, at which Renner, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. R. at 29-51. On October 30, 2014, the ALJ found that Renner was not disabled. R. at 17-25. The Appeals Council denied Renner's request for review on March 2, 2016, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. at 1-7. On April 21, 2016, Renner filed the instant appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Renner was thirty-one years old at the time of the alleged onset date. She has a high school education. Renner has past relevant work experience as a sewer line photo inspector and as a material handler. R. at 33-34, 48. At the hearing on October 9, 2014, Renner testified that she stopped working because of pain in her knees. R. at 35-36. Renner stated that she tried to go back to work in 2012 after having surgery on her knees, but was not able to get in and out of a van, as required for her work as a sewer line photo inspector. Id. She further testified that she could not return to her company to perform a less physical job because all of those positions were already filled. R. at 36-37. Renner indicated that she again tried to return to work as a sewer line photo inspector on a part-time basis in May 2014 but only lasted a month before having to leave again. R. at 45- 46. Renner also stated that she uses a cane on a limited basis but did not use the cane when she attempted to work. R. at 37-38.

         Renner testified that she is able to take care of her four-year old son with her mother's assistance. R. at 40. She further stated that her mother helps her with laundry, vacuuming, and walking her dogs. R. at 41. Renner also testified that she is responsible for doing the dishes but that it usually takes her twenty minutes to finish and that she must typically take a break while doing them. R. at 41-42. Renner further indicated that that she does not drive anymore except to drive her son down the street to his preschool and back two days every week. R. at 40. When asked about her medical records that showed she had contracted poison ivy, Renner stated that she contracted it simply by being outside in her yard. R. at 38. Renner also admitted that she tried to help her mother move a small freezer by pushing the freezer sideways. R. at 39, 43-44.

         In addition to her knee pain, Renner stated that she has experienced some migraines and symptoms of depression as a result of her condition. R. at 44. Renner testified that she was currently taking a medication for her thyroid, Wellbutrin for depression, and Percocet for the pain in her knees. R. at 38. She indicated that Kimberly Franklin, M.D. (“Dr. Franklin”), had prescribed her Percocet after her prior pain specialist, Robert Kravitz, M.D. (“Dr. Kravitz”), had retired. R. at 38-39. She also stated that she experiences drowsiness as a side effect of her medications. R. at 45.

         When describing the pain in her knees, Renner testified that her knees feel restless if she is sitting for too long. R. at 42. She stated that she can sit for about ten minutes at a time and then has to stand. R. at 42. Renner also indicated that she can stand in place for about five to ten minutes at a time before she begins experiencing throbbing in her knees. R. at 42-43. She further testified that she can walk for about five to ten minutes at a time and can lift a gallon of milk, but can no longer pick up her son. R. at 43.


         1. Treatment Records

         On January 11, 2012, Renner presented to Gregory Hardin, M.D. (“Dr. Hardin”). R. at 207-208. Upon examination, Dr. Hardin found that Renner was guarding and held her knee in a flexed position. R. at 207. Dr. Hardin also noted that Renner's range of motion was limited with regard to flexion and extension and that Renner had an antalgic limp. R. at 207-208. Renner underwent MRIs on both of her knees that same day, which revealed that she suffered from patellofemoral degenerative joint disease in her right knee and a patellar cartilage defect in her left knee. R. at 194-197, 221-222. To resolve Renner's knee pain, Dr. Hardin performed surgeries on each of Renner's knees in the summer of 2012. R. at 202, 233.

         On August 13, 2012, Renner returned to Dr. Hardin for a follow-up examination. R. at 203, 225, 294. Dr. Hardin noted that Renner was “progressing well and as expected” following her knee surgeries and that her range of motion had progressed to nearly full range of motion. Id. During this examination, Renner also informed Dr. Hardin that she had returned to work the previous week. Id. Renner again presented to Dr. Hardin for a post-surgical examination on September 21, 2012. R. at 202, 224. During this examination, Dr. Hardin continued to indicate that Renner was “progressing well” and recommended certain medications to help alleviate any further symptoms. Id.

         On October 29, 2012, Renner visited Dr. Hardin, complaining of continued bilateral knee pain. R. at 218, 239. Dr. Hardin gave Renner an injection of Synvisc One to help alleviate her pain. Id. On November 16, 2012, Renner again visited Dr. Hardin and indicated the injection did not help. R. at 209, 237. Dr. Hardin recommended that Renner continue with non-surgical treatments and referred her to pain management to help control her symptoms. R. at 210, 238.

         On December 26, 2012, Renner presented to Dr. Kravitz for further treatment for her knee pain. R. at 261. Dr. Kravitz did not believe Renner was a candidate for additional surgery at that time. Id. He also found that Renner had some guarding and some antalgia, but had normal strength and had “no weakness whatsoever.” Id. ...

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