United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Freeman (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the
decision of the Social Security Commissioner, Carolyn Colvin,
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
under the Social Security Act. The parties consented to the
exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF No. 4). Because the
Court finds that substantial evidence supports the decision
to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial of
Background and Procedural History
November 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits based on the following medical conditions:
degenerative disc disease, severe loss of hearing, high
cholesterol, high blood pressure, and acid reflux. (Tr.
116-17, 146). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied
Plaintiff's claims, and she filed a timely request for a
hearing before an administrative law judge. (Tr. 51-58,
67-68). The SSA granted Plaintiff's request for review
and conducted a hearing on May 13, 2014. (Tr. 27-50). In a
decision dated May 29, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act from November 4, 2012, through the
date of this decision.” (Tr. 13). The SSA Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review
of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-2). Plaintiff has exhausted
all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision
stands as the Commissioner's final decision. Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
The Administrative Proceeding
Testimony at Hearing
appeared with counsel at the administrative hearing on May
13, 2014. (Tr. 29). Plaintiff testified that she was sixty
years of age, had a high school diploma and a “one-year
office certificate, ” and was 5 foot 4 inches tall and
weighed 280 pounds. (Tr. 31-32). Plaintiff stated that she
had worked for the same company for thirty-eight years. (Tr.
32). She began her career as a machine operator and, in her
final seven years with the company, worked as a production
clerk, entering data, filing papers, and making copies. (Tr.
33-34). Plaintiff's employment ended on November 4, 2011
due to downsizing. (Tr. 35).
testified that she suffered back pain, which “gets
worse with limited, even limited activity, any activity,
” “extreme shortness of breath, ” and
carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 35-36). In regard to the
symptoms in her hands, Plaintiff explained:
“[S]ometimes you go to ta[ke] and pick up something,
and a pain'll shoot through the my wrist and I will drop
it. And sometimes I have pain all the way up my arms.”
(Tr. 36). Plaintiff had difficulty “gripping
things” and was unable to open jars and sealed water
bottles. (Tr. 36-37). Plaintiff had a computer in her home,
but used it “sparingly” because “I have
trouble with my hands going numb if I use it very
often.” (Tr. 37). Plaintiff estimated that she was able
to use the computer twenty minutes before experiencing
explained that her doctor had recommended surgery for her
carpal tunnel syndrome, but she declined surgery because her
former coworkers “that had carpal tunnel
surgery…ended up in worse shape than they started off
with.” (Tr. 38). Plaintiff wore wrist splints, which
“cut down on the pain some, ” but she
“still can't grip very well[.]”
described constant pain in her lower back, which increased
with any movement, walking, or lifting. (Id.).
Plaintiff testified that on good days, she can “do some
stuff around the house if I take frequent breaks, ”
but, on bad days, “I'm lucky if I can get out of
bed.” (Tr. 35). Plaintiff stated that, on a good day,
she “could probably lift 10 pounds, ” and, on a
bad day, “I can't lift anything. I'd drop it
all.” (Tr. 39). Plaintiff could not stand longer than
five minutes and could walk approximately twenty-five feet
before needing to sit down. Plaintiff needed to lie down ten
to twenty times per day for approximately twenty minutes.
(Tr. 39-40). Plaintiff estimated that she experienced
approximately three bad days per week. (Tr. 35).
time of the hearing, Plaintiff had not consulted a
pulmonologist about her breathing problems because she
“d[id]n't have the money.” (Tr. 40-41).
Plaintiff testified that she was taking the following
medications: Piroxicam, Crestor, “Amlodbenaz” for
“high blood pressure, ” Prilosec, and Gaviscon.
(Tr. 41-42). Plaintiff explained that the Piroxicam eased the
pain in her back and hands enough so that she was “able
to function somewhat.” (Tr. 42). However, the Piroxicam
“irritates my stomach, which irritates the acid reflux
. . . .” (Tr. 43).
typical good day, Plaintiff washed dishes and did laundry.
(Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff also swept the floors, but needed
“to stop and rest frequently” because her
“back is hurting and I'm short of breath.”
(Tr. 44). In regard to gardening, Plaintiff testified that,
over “the last couple of years, I've been limited
to what I can do.” (Id.). She explained,
“I cannot use a tiller, my husband does that. And, he
does the planting. . . . I can go out and pick a tomato or
two, or something like that, but I can't really do a
whole lot with the gardening.” (Id.).
Plaintiff had a driver's license and regularly drove
thirty minutes to her doctor appointments. (Tr. 45).
Lindahl, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.
(Tr. 48-49). Mr. Lindahl stated that the duties of a
production clerk required “constant reaching, handling
and fingering” and the “main part of the job is
doing the computer entry.” (Tr. 48). The ALJ asked Mr.
Lindahl to consider a hypothetical claimant with the same
age, education, and work history as Plaintiff who was limited
to “to work at the light exertional level. Ability to
occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl.” (Tr. 49). Mr. Lindahl
responded that such person could perform Plaintiff's past
work as a machine operator or production clerk. (Tr. 49).
However, if the same hypothetical individual were
“limited to occasional handling and fingering,
bilateral, ” neither of those options would remain.
Relevant Medical Records
January 12, 2012, Plaintiff visited her primary care
physician, Dr. Ted Hatfield, for evaluation and management of
hypertension, hyperlipidemia, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (Tr. 231). Plaintiff
was generally doing well, but reported nasal congestion and
“some esophageal spasms and occasionally her food is
hanging up.” (Id.). Dr. Hatfield noted that
Plaintiff had gained ten pounds since her last visit, and he
discussed with Plaintiff the relationship of obesity
“to the GERD, reflux and potential for developing
esophageal stricture requiring [dilation], etc.”
(Id.). Plaintiff was taking Crestor, Lotrel,
Feldene, and “over-the-counter Prilosec and says that
works very well for her.” (Tr. 232). Dr. Hatfield
recorded the following diagnoses: hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, type 2 diabetes mellitus, GERD,
osteoarthritis, and exogenous obesity. (Id.).
February 27, 2012, Dr. Kelly R. Hutson at Backworks
Chiropractic began treating Plaintiff's chronic back
pain. (Tr. 213). Plaintiff reported that she had been
suffering chronic back pain for four to five years, and she
had received physical therapy, aquatic therapy, injections,
and nerve stripping, all of which provided “little or
no relief.” (Id.). Plaintiff also noted loss
of grip strength and pain in both hands and numbness in her
fingers. (Tr. 214). On a functional rating index, Plaintiff
stated that she “can do usual work; no extra
work” and “can do a few [recreational]
activities.” (Tr. 215).
Hutson prescribed Plaintiff three sessions of chiropractic
manipulation per week for the next four weeks. (Tr. 216).
Plaintiff presented for fifteen sessions between February 28,
2012 and March 30, 2012, and her treatment included spinal
vertebral axial decompression of the lumbar region. (Tr.
221-26). On March 30, 2012, Plaintiff's final day of
treatment, Dr. Hutson assessed that Plaintiff's
“condition is improving” and recommended
Plaintiff continue “conservative chiropractic
management.” (Tr. 226).
April 2012, Plaintiff underwent a colonoscopy, which revealed
an adenomatous polyp. (Tr. 244, 296-300). On May 10, 2012,
Plaintiff discussed concerns about her colonoscopy with Dr.
Hatfield. (Tr. 232-33). Dr. Hatfield reassured Plaintiff and
recommended she repeat the colonoscopy in six months. (Tr.
233). Dr. Hatfield noted: “Otherwise she has no
complaints. She has got a big garden.” (Id.).
visited Dr. Hatfield again on September 4, 2012 for
evaluation and management of her hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, type 2 diabetes mellitus, GERD, and
osteoarthritis. (Tr. 234-35). Again, Plaintiff stated that
she was “doing well and has no real complaints today,
” and she was taking generic Prevacid “that seems
to work as well for her as any of the other medications she
had.” (Tr. 235). Dr. Hatfield noted that Plaintiff
“is talking about her garden, apparently [it] did
followed up with Dr. Hatfield about her blood pressure on
November 7, 2012. (Tr. 236-37). Because Plaintiff complained
of “pain with radiation into the buttocks in the right
leg, ” Dr. Hatfield ordered an MRI and referred
Plaintiff to Dr. Franklin Hayward. (Tr. 237). On November 13,
2012, a lumbar spine MRI without contrast revealed
“[m]ild to moderate lumbar degenerative spondylosis
that is most significant at ¶ 1-2 and L3-4 where it
produces mild spinal stenosis.” (Tr. 249-50).
December 3, 2012, Plaintiff saw Dr. Hayward at the Heartland
Spine Institute. (Tr. 256-57). Plaintiff informed Dr. Hayward
that her constant pain limited her ability to work, walk,
drive, sleep, and stand. (Tr. 256). Plaintiff reported that a
chiropractor previously performed spinal decompression,
“which improved her symptoms.” (Id.).
Plaintiff explained that “[h]er symptoms are worse when
she stands and are relieved when she sits, ” and she
described “numbness/tingling in bilateral hands and
fingers.” (Id.) Dr. Hayward observed that
Plaintiff was “significantly overweight” and
therefore not a candidate for surgery. (Id.). He
recommended “significant weight reduction” to
relieve her back pain, suggested bariatric surgery, and
“told her that if she has significant weight reduction
and continued to have low back pain, she could be reevaluated
at that time.” (Tr. 257). Plaintiff stated that she was
not interested in surgery.
returned to Dr. Hatfield's office on January 4, 2013, and
said “she has been doing well, but she [was] very
tearful and upset” because “[t]hey eliminated her
job at work[.]” (Tr. 313-14). Dr. Hatfield and
Plaintiff discussed Dr. Hayward's recommendation that she
undergo bariatric surgery, and Plaintiff stated “she is
not interested in it.” (Tr. 314). Dr. Hatfield refilled
Plaintiff's medications and ...