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McClellan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, LaFayette Division

March 28, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on petition for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner filed by the plaintiff, Valerie E. McClellan, on January 19, 2018. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


         The plaintiff, Valerie E. McClellan, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on February 10, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 14, 2014. (Tr. 10). The Disability Determination Bureau denied McClellan's application initially on April 7, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on August 18, 2014. (Tr. 10). McClellan subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on October 16, 2014. (Tr. 10). A video hearing was held on May 31, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Theodore W. Grippo, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 29, 2016. (Tr. 10-16). Vocational Expert (VE) Jacquelyn D. Schabacker appeared by telephone at the hearing. (Tr. 10). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         McClellan met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 12). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that McClellan had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 14, 2014, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 12).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that McClellan had the following severe impairment: status post stage II left breast cancer, in remission and sequellae. (Tr. 12). The ALJ indicated that the medical evidence substantiated that McClellan's severe impairment imposed significant limitations on her ability to perform basic work-related activities for at least twelve consecutive months permitting her to proceed past step two of the evaluation process. (Tr. 12).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that McClellan did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 13). The ALJ determined that McClellan did not meet listing 13.10. (Tr. 13). The ALJ noted that since her surgery and chemotherapy, there was no reoccurrence of cancer. (Tr. 13).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed McClellan's residual functional capacity (RFC) as follows:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except for the following limitations. She can occasionally kneel and squat.

(Tr. 13). The ALJ explained that in considering McClellan's symptoms he followed a two-step process. (Tr. 13). First, he determined whether there was an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce McClellan's pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 13). Then, he evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited McClellan's functioning. (Tr. 13).

         McClellan alleged disability based on the symptoms from her stage two breast cancer, which was discovered in January of 2014. (Tr. 14). The cancer led to a partial mastectomy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and treatment with Arimidex. (Tr. 14). McClellan claimed that her physical status had not improved since her chemotherapy ended. (Tr. 14). She reported that she felt worn out, her eyes watered, and her bones ached. (Tr. 14). She also experienced headaches and lost memory. (Tr. 14). She indicated that her medication side effects included bone pain, feet pain, hip pain, dizziness, and memory loss. (Tr. 14). She estimated that she could sit for two to three hours at a time but that she could only stand for ten minutes at a time. (Tr. 14).

         The ALJ determined that McClellan's medically determinable impairments reasonably could have been expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (Tr. 14). However, her statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence. (Tr. 14). The ALJ indicated that the medical evidence did not support McClellan's alleged limitations. (Tr. 14). In June of 2014, a medical note showed no muscle weakness, no bone pain, no joint pain, and no gross sensory or motor deficit. (Tr. 14). Also, her primary care provider reported in March of 2015 that she had intact memory, normal bilateral feet exams, and normal range of motion and strength in all extremities. (Tr. 14). The ALJ also noted that McClellan testified that she could wash dishes, do laundry, and complete other household chores. (Tr. 14).

         After the hearing, McClellan underwent a consultative examination in June of 2016. (Tr. 14). The consultative examiner found 5/5 strength in bilateral upper and lower extremities, full range of motion in all joints, normal deep tendon reflexes, and sensation equal and intact bilaterally. (Tr. 14). Additionally, the ALJ indicated that McClellan was able to toe and tandem walk without difficulty but was unable to perform a heel walk. (Tr. 14-15). The consultative examiner indicated that McClellan had no memory difficulty or dizziness during the examination. (Tr. 15).

         Because of the thoroughness of the examination, the ALJ assigned great weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner. (Tr. 15). The ALJ assigned limited weight to the opinion of McClellan's treating physician, Dr. Vijaya Kakani, M.D. (Tr. 15). The ALJ noted that Dr. Kakani's treating notes primarily identified symptoms rather than limitations. (Tr. 15). Finally, the ALJ assigned limited weight to the State agency medical ...

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