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Walls v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 25, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.[1]

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Terri Lynn Walls brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The parties have submitted cross-motions for summary judgment and the record has been fully developed at the administrative proceedings. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed for DIB on September 13, 2010, alleging onset of disability as of October 1, 2008 due to fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). (R. 96-99, 129.) The application was denied by the state agency initially and on reconsideration. (R. 78-79.) Plaintiff responded on February 25, 2011 by filing a timely request for an administrative hearing. (R. 90-91.) On April 27, 2012, an administrative hearing was held in Fort Meyers, Florida before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Larry Butler. (R. 43-69.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. 45-68.)

In a decision dated August 20, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act from the time of her alleged onset of disability, and her claim for benefits was therefore denied. (R. 19-27.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 9, 2013, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. (R. 7-11.)

Plaintiff commenced the present action on February 26, 2014, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (ECF Nos. 1, 3.) Plaintiff and the Commissioner filed cross-motions for summary judgment on August 15, 2014 and September 15, 2014, respectively. (ECF Nos. 8, 10.) These motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

III. Statement of Facts

Plaintiff was 49 years old as of the date of her alleged onset of disability. (R. 46.) She completed high school and one and a half years of business school. (R. 47, 130.) Her past relevant employment includes work as a home health aide from 2007 to 2008 and work as a housekeeper from 2003 to 2006. (R. 49, 130.) Based on her earnings records, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2010. (R. 21.)

Plaintiff contends that she is unable to work due to a variety of ailments, including fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder related to past abuse and a sexual assault, depression, panic attacks, chronic bladder infections, asthma, chronic bronchitis, irritable bowel syndrome, a hiatal hernia, obesity, and high blood pressure. (R. 53, 54, 55, 58-59, 183-84.) She takes Prozac and Vistaril, which help somewhat in ameliorating her depression and anxiety-related symptoms. (R. 58.) She also takes medication to control her high blood pressure, recurrent heartburn, and frequent sinus congestion. (R. 181-82.) She claims to experience constant back and shoulder pain and uses heating packs, massage therapy, Advil and Tylenol, and chiropractic care to address these symptoms. (R. 139, 154-56, 182.) Her reports to the Agency indicate that she has great difficulty with repetitive bending or kneeling, lifting more than 25 pounds, and sitting more than two hours or walking more than 15 minutes without rest due to pain, fatigue, and weakness. (R. 136-43, 156.)

Plaintiff testified that she typically goes to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 at night and has difficulty sleeping due to nightmares. (R. 60.) Sometimes she will go back to sleep from 7:00 to 9:00a.m. (R. 61.) She states that her typical day consists of reading the newspaper, doing light housework, preparing simple meals, watching television, and talking on the phone. (R. 61-62, 136-38, 140.) She will drive to the grocery store but does not like to drive great distances or in busy traffic. (R. 49, 63.) She testified to feeling exhausted and sitting most of the day and claims to have difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks and adapting to changes in her routine. (R. 61, 64-65.) She can handle her own personal care. (R. 136-38.)

Included in the administrative record are treatment notes from Cape Coral Hospital, Internal Medical Associates, Lee Physicians Group, and several different chiropractors from whom Plaintiff sought treatment during the time span 2003 through 2012. The treatment records reflect that:

[b]eginning in 2008, [Plaintiff began] consultations with Dr. Demetrios Gonis, M.D. and Dr. Xiomara Morillo-Azcuy, M.D., regarding occasional chest pain and shortness of breath long associated with respiratory infections, flare-ups of asthma and elevated blood pressure. (Ex. 17F, pp. 1-2; Ex. 15F, pp 1-6; Ex3 F, pp. 7-11; Ex. 7F, pp. 1-7). Further, an October 2009 echocardiogram revealed a small pericardial effusion with tricuspid regurgitation (Ex. 3F; SF). Meanwhile, diagnostic studies during chiropractic treatment revealed degeneration and a possible compression fracture of the claimant's cervical spine along with joint degeneration in the knees (Ex. 1F-4F). As of ...

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