United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
KARLA S. POLK, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge.
Karla S. Polk, who is proceeding pro se, 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 January 2013, alleging that she
became disabled on August 1, 2012. (DE 9 Administrative
Record (“AR”) 248-57). The Commissioner denied
her application initially and upon reconsideration, and Polk
requested an administrative hearing. (AR 116-17, 138-39,
148-71). After Polk's timely request, Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Maryann S. Bright conducted a
hearing at which Polk, who was represented by counsel at the
time, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified.
(AR 31-70). On September 8, 2014, the ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision to Polk, concluding that she was not
disabled because despite the limitations caused by her
impairments, she could perform a significant number of jobs
in the economy. (AR 11-24). The Appeals Council denied
Polk's request for review, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-7);
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
filed a complaint with this Court on May 11, 2016, seeking
relief from the Commissioner's final decision. (DE 1).
Polk filed her opening brief on September 16, 2016, and the
Commissioner filed a response brief on October 27, 2016. (DE
13; DE 14). Polk did not file a reply brief, and her time to
do so has now passed. N.D. Ind. L.R. 7-1(d)(2)(B).
time the ALJ issued her decision, Polk was 40 years old, had
a high school education and had completed some college
courses, and possessed work experience as a customer service
representative. (AR 38, 248, 307-08, 362). Polk alleged in
her disability application that she became disabled due to
depression, anxiety, vertigo, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), headaches, near fainting spells, low
back pain, and pain or numbness in her legs. (AR 306).
Polk's Hearing Testimony
hearing, Polk testified as follows: Polk was going through a
divorce; she lives in a house with her boyfriend and her
three children, ages 18, 16, and eight. (AR 34-36).
Polk's 16-year-old daughter is severely disabled due to
cerebral palsy and requires 24-hour care; Polk is the sole
caregiver for her daughter, consuming most of Polk's
time. (AR 36-37, 48). Caring for her daughter, who weighs 60
pounds, requires lifting her to and from her chair, changing
her diapers, feeding her every four hours, and administering
her medicine twice a day. (AR 59-60). Polk receives Medicaid
and child support, and her daughter receives SSI. (AR 36-37,
66). Polk drives a car short distances every day, such as to
take her children to activities, and every few months she
drives to Indianapolis for her daughter's doctor
appointments. (AR 37, 49). Polk's boyfriend and niece
perform most of the cooking and cleaning for the household;
when Polk does do household tasks, such as washing dishes,
she has to take intermittent breaks. (AR 60). Polk and her
boyfriend do the shopping together. (AR 48-49, 65).
asked why she felt she could not work, Polk responded that
she has anxiety attacks and gets “emotional, ”
resulting in daily crying spells, which caused her to miss
work when she was employed. (AR 41, 53-55). She admitted,
however, that she also missed work to care for her disabled
daughter. (AR 41). Polk was taking Paxil and Xanax, which
were effective and did not cause side effects; she also was
seeing a therapist weekly. (AR 42-43). She complained of
problems with concentration, memory, and relating to others.
(AR 47). Polk had frequent headaches when she was working,
but now her headaches occur just a few times a month. (AR
60-61). When she gets a headache, she takes ibuprofen and
lies down for up to two hours. (AR 61). Polk also has
interrupted sleep at night due to sleep apnea, causing her to
nap throughout the day. (AR 61-62).
Polk complained of back pain, estimating that she could sit
for 45 minutes at a time, stand for 20 minutes at a time, and
walk about two blocks. (AR 46, 57-58). Her doctor, however,
had not prescribed any treatment for her back pain;
Polk's back pain is reduced by taking ibuprofen and by
changing positions or sitting in a recliner. (AR 44-46, 58).
Summary of the Medical Evidence
March 5, 2013, Polk underwent a mental status examination by
Wayne Von Bargen, Ph.D., at the request of the state agency.
(AR 389-92). She was cooperative, logical, relevant,
coherent, and alert, but her affect was anxious and she
became tearful at times. (AR 389). She stated that being in a
crowd does not bother her. (AR 389). When describing her
daily activities, Polk told Dr. Von Bargen that she takes her
children to school, naps for a few hours, watches television,
cleans the house, goes shopping every day just to get out of
the house, and takes her son to baseball games; her hobbies
include playing on the computer and on her phone. (AR
389-90). Dr. Von Bargen's impression was anxiety
disorder, not otherwise specified, and rule out panic
disorder without agoraphobia; he assigned her a Global
Assessment Functioning (“GAF”) score of
March 5, 2013, Polk was examined by Dr. B.T. Onamusi for a
nine-year history of pain in her back, right wrist, knees,
ankles, and hips. (AR 393-96). She described the pain as
intermittent and moderate-to-severe, radiating to her legs;
her pain worsened with prolonged standing or walking. (AR
393). However, she had not seen a doctor for these complaints
and did not take any medications-over-the-counter or
otherwise-for her back pain. (AR 393). She also complained of
headaches, but she had not seen a doctor about this problem
either. (AR 393). Upon examination, Polk walked with a normal
gait and had no difficulty transferring to or from an
examination table; she was unsteady walking on heels and
toes, and she was unable to squat, knee, or tandem walk. (AR
394). Her grip strength was 45 pounds in her right hand and
80 pounds in her left hand. (AR 394). She became tearful
during a range of motion examination of her spine, and Dr.
Onamusi terminated the musculoskeletal portion of the
examination at that point. (AR 395). Dr. Onamusi assessed:
(1) chronic back pain with polyarthralgia, probably
myofascial versus degenerative, but the musculoskeletal
examination was limited due to Polk's tearfulness; (2)
recurrent headaches with periods of incapacitation, about
once a week, four hours each time; and (3) recurrent
dizziness, infrequent, occurring about once a month to once
every other month. (AR 395). Dr. Onamusi concluded that Polk
was capable of engaging in light physical demand level
activities as defined in the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles. (AR 395).
March 6, 2013, Stacia Hill, Ph.D., a state agency
psychologist, reviewed Polk's record and concluded that
she had mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning,
but no restrictions in activities of daily living or in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (AR 103-04).
Dr. Hill concluded that Polk's mental impairment was not
severe. (AR 104). A second ...