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Lamb v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 24, 2013

DAWN W. LAMB, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.


Dawn W. Lamb ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 11, 13). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on July 22, 2009, claiming a disability onset of January 1, 2006. (R. at 109-19, 147).[1] She claimed that her inability to work full-time allegedly stemmed from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Barrett's esophagus, insomnia, fatigue, migraines, celiac disease, anxiety, depression, allergies, sinus problems, anemia, low white blood cell count, sensitivity to light and noise, cysts on ovaries, joint swelling, indigestion, and vision problems. (R. at 152). Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on January 11, 2010. (R. at 96-105). Per the request of Plaintiff, an administrative hearing was held on December 2, 2010. (R. at 47-74). Plaintiff appeared to testify, represented by counsel, and a neutral vocational expert also testified. (R. at 47-74). In a decision dated January 13, 2011, the ALJ denied Plaintiff the benefits sought. (R. at 13-28). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, but this request was denied on April 30, 2012, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1-5).

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court on June 14, 2012. (ECF No. 1). Defendant filed an Answer on August 17, 2012. (ECF No. 8). Cross motions for summary judgment followed. (ECF Nos. 11, 13). The matter has been fully briefed, and is ripe for disposition.


A. General Background

Plaintiff was born on June 13, 1969, was thirty nine years of age at the time of her application for benefits, and forty one years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 147). Plaintiff graduated from high school, and completed a course of vocational training for cosmetology. (R. at 158-59). Plaintiff was separated from her husband and lived in her own home. (R. at 55, 168). Plaintiff had two sons, one of which died of leukemia around 2006. (R. at 55, 552). She was the primary caretaker of her surviving teenage son. (R. at 55). Plaintiff was capable of independent self-care, but had difficulty putting on clothes and washing her hair, because of left shoulder pain, and using buttons and zippers, because of swelling in her hands. (R. at 56-57, 169). She was capable of cooking, vacuuming, cleaning laundry, and shopping. (R. at 56, 66-67, 170). Plaintiff stretched and exercised. (R. at 168). Her son assisted her with chores involving heavy lifting, such as trash removal, carrying laundry, and carrying grocery bags. (R. at 56, 67). Plaintiff maintained a driver's license and could travel independently. (R. at 171). Beginning in 2010, Plaintiff had resumed employment at a local hotel on a part-time basis. (R. at 53-54). She was in charge of the breakfast buffet one or two days per week, for approximately four hours each day. (R. at 53-54, 56). Plaintiff otherwise subsisted on support payments, and received medical assistance from the state. (R. at 56, 151).

B. Physical Treatment History

On July 15, 2008, Plaintiff was examined for complaints of nonspecific arthralgias at the UPMC Arthritis and Autoimmunity Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (R. at 329-32). Plaintiff was evaluated by Douglas W. Lienesch, M.D. and Surabhi Agarwal, M.D. At the time, Plaintiff had no fibromyalgia tender points, muscle strength was full, there was no obvious synovitis in the joints, wrist squeeze test was negative, and Plaintiff's joints were cool to the touch. (R. at 331). Diagnostic testing was nonspecific to any particular autoimmune disorder. (R. at 331-32). This was largely consistent with prior visits to the center in May and July 2008, one of which indicated that her pain was out of proportion to her physical examination. (R. at 342-51). The lack of improvement in Plaintiff's symptoms with the use of prednisone and immunosuppressive agents militated against the finding of inflammatory arthropathy. (R. at 331). A change in medication was made, and Plaintiff was to follow up in several months. (R. at 331-32).

On September 11, 2009, Plaintiff's treating rheumatologist, Theresa Fryer, M.D., noted that Plaintiff had inconsistent diagnostic testing results for autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, and Plaintiff continued to complain of chronic pain. (R. at 324). Plaintiff's treatment history included notations of cold hands and feet, hand swelling and pain, some ankle swelling and pain, and some joint tenderness, as well as general unresponsiveness to medication. (R. at 325-28, 333-38, 341, 352-54, 360, 363-64). Due to the inconsistency of diagnostic blood tests, and given the largely normal diagnostic imaging results, specialists believed that Plaintiff had a number of autoimmune or potential autoimmune phenomenon, without a clear diagnosis. (R. at 324, 374, 376-77). Plaintiff's complaints remained unchanged despite ongoing medication management. (R. at 324). Dr. Fryer was unsure of how to treat Plaintiff's complaints. (R. at 325).

On December 11, 2009, Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Fryer. (R. at 683). Plaintiff was complaining of pain radiating down her arms. (R. at 683). Diagnostic imaging revealed mild degenerative changes in the cervical spine. (R. at 685). Plaintiff had been referred to physical therapy, but had not seen any relief after one week. (R. at 683). Plaintiff still noted pain in her elbows, hands, knees, and ankles. (R. at 683). Plaintiff had no synovitis or neurological deficits. (R. at 683). Plaintiff returned to Dr. Fryer on February 4, 2010. (R. at 670). Her biggest complaint was her knees. (R. at 670). In the past, the pain was mild, but recently it had worsened and included some swelling. (R. at 670). Dr. Fryer provided an injection for pain. (R. at 670).

Plaintiff was under the care of Suresh S. Shah, M.D. for mild leukopenia and anemia. On February 8, 2010, Dr. Shah noted that Plaintiff had a coordinated and smooth gait, her digits were without cyanosis or clubbing, and she had no gross motor or sensory deficits. (R. at 668). On February 11, 2010, Dr. Lienesch noted that Plaintiff experienced polyarthralgia, but the cause was unknown. (R. at 666). He categorized her pain as undifferentiated connective tissue disease. (R. at 666). Plaintiff had not responded to an array of immunosuppressive agents. (R. at 666). Plaintiff had no synovitis, but tenderness was found around several joints. (R. at 665). Plaintiff had full strength, but fibromyalgia tender points around the neck and shoulder girdle were observed. (R. at 665).

On March 19, 2010, Dr. Fryer noted that Plaintiff's knee pain had improved tremendously after her injections. (R. at 662). Dr. Fryer also injected Plaintiff's shoulder muscles due to tightness and discomfort with rotation of the neck. (R. at 662). Plaintiff's knees were again injected on May 7, 2010. (R. at 659). Seeing a chiropractor had also helped Plaintiff's pain. (R. at 659).

Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Fryer on September 13, 2010. Dr. Fryer diagnosed Plaintiff with fibromyalgia, and provided injections for her knee pain. (R. at 657). Plaintiff had been in physical therapy for three months for cervical and shoulder pain, to no effect. R. at (R. ...

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