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Lynch v. Commissioner of Social

February 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J. District Judge


Plaintiff, Ronelle Harper Lynch, commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who found that she was not entitled to disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on May 22, 2006, alleging that he was disabled since May 1, 2003 due to injuries in her neck, back, arms and legs resulting from four motor vehicle accidents, arthritis, and depression. (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", at 8, 69, 81, 100, 110). For the purposes of DIB, Plaintiff's date last insured was March 31, 2008. (AR 101). Her application was denied and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 62-66). A hearing was held on March 19, 2008 and following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time through the date of his decision and therefore was not entitled to DIB benefits (AR 8-15; 16-47). Plaintiff's request for the review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 1-4), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny Plaintiff's motion and grant Defendant's motion.

I. Background

Plaintiff was born on October 18, 1961 and was forty-six years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (AR 100). She had received a high school education (AR 22). Her past relevant work experience was as an assistant manager at Dollar General, a fast food cashier/clerk, and a supermarket delicatessen clerk. (AR 41-42, 82, 117).

In 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2004, Plaintiff sustained injuries in motor vehicle accidents. (AR 235). Plaintiff suffered a broken ankle in the 1998 crash that required the insertion of pins and the use of an external fixator device. (138-166). The pins were later removed. (R. 148, 152). In October 1999, near complete healing of right ankle fractures was noted. (AR 138).

Plaintiff was examined by her primary physician, Dr. John Zinnamosca, in December 2003 for complaints of mild pain in her back that radiated to her thigh. (AR 273). Dr. Zinnamosca noted that plaintiff was having difficulty walking and was using a cane. He diagnosed her with muscle strain at L5 and radiculopathy. She was prescribed Percocet and Naprosyn. Id. She was seen again in February 2004 for a follow-up at which time she reported her pain was "coming and going" with radiation into her thigh and some tingling in her leg. (AR 272). Some tenderness in the lumbosacral muscles was noted and a straight leg test was positive at forty-five degrees. Id.

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Zinnamosca in November 2004 with complaints of back and knee pain and again in December 2004. (AR 270-271). In December 2004, Plaintiff reported shoulder, neck, and low back pain. (AR 270). Dr. Zinnamosca noted tenderness over the entire thoracic and lumbar spine and paraspinal muscles. Range of motion in the neck was noted as twenty degrees and lumbar flexion was at eighty degrees. Reflexes were normal. Dr. Zinnamosca assessed cervical and lumbar strain and prescribed the application of heat, Vicodin, Skelaxin, and Motrin. Id. An x-ray series of her cervical spine indicating minimal anterior bony endplate spurring at the C5-6 level. (AR 168). An MRI of the brain was normal. (AR 169).

Dr. Zinnamosca examined Plaintiff again in January 2005. Plaintiff reported that she was having good days and bad days with pain and pressure in her lower back and some residual pain in her left scapula area. (AR 268). Plaintiff was continued on her medications. Id. In April 2005, Plaintiff presented with complaints of personal problems that were upsetting her. (AR 268). Dr. Zinnamosca diagnosed depression and anxiety and prescribed Zoloft and Ativan. (AR 267). In May 2005, Plaintiff reported that the Zoloft was helping. Id. In June 2005, she was seen for knee pain after twisting it. Dr. Zinnamosca diagnosed her with a collateral ligament strain and gave her Motrin. (AR 266). When examined in August 2005, Plaintiff complained of bruising easily, knee pain, and a swollen ankle. (AR 265-266). She was prescribed Vicodin and Flexeril. Id. She was seen again in November 2005 for complaints of back pain radiating down her legs. (AR 265). He diagnosed lumbosacral sprain and prescribed Skelaxin and Motrin. (AR 264).

Plaintiff underwent two chiropractic treatments with Dr. Brett Keyser in November 2005 and December 2005. Plaintiff complained of lower lumbar pain, sacro-iliac pain, and pain in the mid-back, all at a level eight out of ten. Dr. Keyser noted a severe level of pain and discomfort on palpitation and decreased range of motion (AR. 171). A small improvement was noted at the second appointment. Id.

Plaintiff was examined again by Dr. Zinnamosca in February 2006 for a follow-up on her back pain, which was noted as also being in her legs. (AR 264). Dr. Zinnamosca noted that Plaintiff was tender along the lumbosacral spine. Straight leg raises were positive at eighty degrees. (AR 263-264). In May 2006, Plaintiff reported back, joint, and leg pain. She was prescribed Soma, Celebrex and Vicodin. (AR 263-264).

Dr. David Williams took over as Plaintiff's primary care physician in June 2006. (AR 175). An MRI was ordered. (AR 262). The MRI of the cervical spine indicated straightening of the normal lordotic curve with uncovertebral spurring at 3-4 with minimal disc bulging and mild bilateral foraminal narrowing at that level; disc bulge at 4-5 with foraminal narrowing primarily on the right but also to some degree on the left; and similar degenerative changes to 4-5 at 5-6. Her most recent lumbosacral spine MRI demonstrated mild multi-level spondylosis with mild multiple disc dessication; mild disc space narrowing at the L3 and L4-5 areas; and mild neural foraminal narrowing at L5-S1. (AR 235-237, 250).

On June 16, 2006, Plaintiff completed a daily activities survey indicating that to do laundry she was using a "grabber" to pick up clothes, cooked fast instant meals, would use a light-weight vacuum and squeeze mop for the floors, and would rely heavily on her husband and daughter to do things for her. (AR 104). She further indicated that her husband would help her with her personal needs and did the driving because she was afraid to drive. She reported that she could sit and pay her bills but needed to get up and move around; could mow part of the lawn with a self-propelled mower; could carry light bags to the trash; could unload two to three light bags of groceries from the car; and could go shopping while using the cart as a walker. (AR 104-106). She noted she could climb six steps without resting; had to walk with a cane at times; could sit for about twenty minutes; lift about five pounds; and would ride in the sidecar of a motorcycle that had a step to get in and out. (AR 107-108). With respect to her personal relationships, she noted that she did not get along well with family, did not respond well to criticism, and got along "ok" with authority figures. (AR 110). She noted difficulty concentrating, difficulty understanding directions (was putting together a shelving unit and did not understand the directions), and difficulty accepting change. (AR 111).

On July 3, 2006, Dr. Williams completed a functional capacity assessment. (AR 166-184). Dr Williams reported diagnoses of chronic low back pain and neck and shoulder pain intermittently controlled by medications. (AR 176). Plaintiff's sensation and motor power was noted as normal. (AR 176-177). Dr. Williams indicated Plaintiff's use of an assistive device, noting the necessity of its use for ambulation in some situations but not for weight bearing. (AR 177). He further noted that Plaintiff did not suffer from an emotional condition and had not been referred to a mental health professional. (AR 178). He opined that Plaintiff was unable to do activities for a sustained period of time and had a fair prognosis based on her June MRI. (AR 179). Dr. Williams noted that Plaintiff could occasionally bend, kneel, crouch and balance; never stoop or climb; had no impairment in reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, seeing, hearing, speaking, tasting/smelling, or with continence; could occasionally lift ten pounds and occasionally carry two to three pounds; could stand and walk more than two hours but less than six depending on the length of the sustained activity; could sit for less than six hours; and was limited in pushing and pulling in her upper and lower extremities. (AR 181, 184).

On July 21, 2006, Kimberly Ulery, a state agency medical consultant, completed a functional capacity evaluation indicating that Plaintiff was capable of occasionally lifting and carrying twenty pounds; frequently lifting and carrying ten pounds; standing and walking about two hours in an eight hour work day; sitting about six hours in an eight hour work day; was unlimited in her ability to push and pull; could occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and never climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. (AR 186-188). On the same date, Dr. Sanford Golin completed a psychiatric review technique indicating that Plaintiff did not suffer from a mental impairments and as a result, had no attributable functional limitations. (AR 192-204).

On August 4, 2006, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Williams for complaints of depression symptoms. He noted his diagnosis as major depressive disorder and placed her on Cymbalta. (AR 241).

Dr. Barry Bittman evaluated Plaintiff on September 26, 2006. (AR 235-237). He noted her most recent MRI findings. Upon examination, Plaintiff was noted as having 5/5 motor strength in the upper and lower extremities; normal and symmetric reflexes; a somewhat antalgic gait due to a turned out ankle present since birth; diffuse tenderness in the entire spinal axis and paraspinal regions; positive straight leg tests at fifteen degrees bilaterally; and restriction of range of motion in the neck and lumbosacral spine. Dr. Bittman noted that there was no "clear cut suggestion of spinal cord pathology" and indicated his impression as chronic pain syndrome and ordered nerve conduction and electromyography studies. He further suggested that Plaintiff be referred to a pain clinic. Id. An electrophysiological examination was normal. (AR 229-234).

Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Williams for complaints of a boil on her left shoulder, a changed birthmark, depression, and increased pain on October 6, 2006. (AR. 226). Dr. Williams noted that Plaintiff was experiencing severe family stressors and had a tearful mood/affect. He increased her Cymbalta and referred her for a psychological consultation. She was continued on ...

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