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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

November 5, 2014



NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jennifer Johnson seeks review of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 401, et seq. For the following reasons, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

I. Background

A. Relevant Period

In order to recover Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, Johnson must show that she is disabled prior to the expiration of her insurance. Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir. 2009). Therefore, the relevant time period is from November 1, 2002, Johnson's alleged onset date, until her date of last insured, March 31, 2010. Tilley v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 675, 675 (8th Cir. 2009). Medical records from outside the relevant time period may be probative of the claimant's condition, along with records from the relevant period. Id. at 680-81.

B. Johnson's Medical History

The record does not contain any documentation of Johnson's medical status before 2005. In 2005 and 2006 Johnson visited her doctor multiple times to complain about her asthma, at one point reporting that she was using her rescue inhaler a dozen times per day. Tr. at 327-331. In 2008, Johnson visited her doctor five times for these same problems. During two of these visits, the doctor noted that Johnson suffered from bronchial breath sounds. Tr. at 317, 319. In January 2009, Johnson complained of intermittent, sudden, and severe asthma attacks. She reported losing consciousness during some of the attacks. Tr. at 310. In February, the doctor diagnosed Johnson with fatigue and asthma with acute exacerbation. Tr. at 304. In June 2009, Johnson's primary care physician noted her condition was "well controlled with treatment." Tr. at 298.

In June 2010, Johnson began seeking treatment for lower back pain. Tr. at 289. Johnson's physician prescribed Cymbalta and recommended exercise. Johnson saw her doctor again in November and December, reporting that Cymbalta was not working and that she was unable to walk distances due to her pain. In January 2011, Johnson saw Dr. Dorinda Faulkner for a Medicaid evaluation. In her evaluation, Johnson reported numbness in her legs, arms, and hands; shortness of breath; back pain; and intermittent inability to talk. Tr. at 255. Dr. Faulkner noted that Johnson appeared uncomfortable on the exam table and she moved slowly and stiffly. Tr. at 257. An x-ray taken during the examination disclosed probable lumbar degenerative disc disease and scoliosis. Tr. at 264. Dr. Faulkner concluded that Johnson was likely temporarily disabled and that she expected Johnson's incapacity to last three to five months. Tr. at 254.

Throughout 2011, Johnson tried a number of prescription medications to manage her pain. After being prescribed Meloxicam in March, her pain improved, but by August she reported that her pain was again out of control. By October, Johnson reported having to use a cane if she needed to walk any distance.

In January 2012, Johnson began to see Dr. Theresa Sherard. Dr. Sherard noted that Johnson was anxious and in pain. She diagnosed Johnson with fibromyalgia and low back pain. In February, Dr. Sherard took an MRI of Johnson's lumbar spine. The MRI showed a posterior disc protrusion with evidence of an annular tear at L5-S1 causing bilateral foraminal narrowing and facet arthropathy, as well as bilateral foraminal narrowing secondary to a posterior broad-based disc bulge at L4-5. Tr. at 366-367. Dr. Sherard prescribed amitriptyline. Tr. at 386.

Johnson saw two doctors at the request of the ALJ. Dr. Charles Mauldin examined Johnson in May 2012. He assessed Johnson with complaints of pain with nonorganic signs. Tr. at 394. Dr. Stephen Williamson examined Johnson in June 2012 and noted that Johnson had difficulty squatting and rising, getting up and down from the exam table, and hopping on one foot. He diagnosed Johnson with refractive error, uncontrolled hypertension and fibromyalgia. Tr. at 408.

In June 2012, Dr. Sherard referred Johnson to Dr. David True due to her pain. Dr. True assessed Johnson with carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and lumbar and cervical spondylosis. He then recommended physical therapy, regular exercise, and that Johnson use wrist braces.

Johnson testified at her administrative hearing, stating that her back pain prevented her from working, sleeping, sitting or standing for long periods of time, and lifting more than ten pounds. Johnson testified that she prepares meals for her family and helps with the chores around the house; she also homeschools her children. Johnson's husband and father testified that her asthma and back problems have gotten progressively worse over the last twelve years.

The ALJ found that Johnson is not entitled to SSDI benefits because she retains the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform her past relevant work as a nurse assistant and certified medical technician. Tr. at 22. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ found that Johnson suffered from a number of severe impairments, including lumbar degenerative disc disease with spondylosis, uncontrolled hypertension exacerbated by obesity, and fibromyalgia syndrome with chronic pain. Tr. at 18. He found that Johnson's asthma did not constitute a severe impairment as it was controlled by medication. Relying primarily on the ...

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