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Flippo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

February 16, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff Delana Gale Flippo brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on January 22, 2013, alleging an onset date of April 2, 2012, due to breast cancer unknown stage, high blood pressure, depression, degenerative disc disease, left knee torn anterior cruciate ligament ("ACL"), right knee, right shoulder, right hip, left arm, and left hand conditions. (Doc. 10, pp. 119, 136, 157-58, 165, 174-75). Based on her work credits, the Commissioner determined that the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2017. Id. at 274-75.

         Plaintiffs application was denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. An administrative hearing was held on May 6, 2015. The Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. Id. at 86-106. Following the hearing, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision on November 3, 2015. Id. at 61-74.

         The ALJ concluded that Plaintiffs carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS"), degenerative joint disease of the left knee and right shoulder, degenerative disc disease ("DDD") of the cervical and lumbar spine, mild hearing loss, anxiety, and major depressive disorder were severe, but they did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. Id. at 63-66. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing sedentary work, except that she can only reach overhead occasionally, and she can perform only simple tasks with simple instructions. Id. at 66.

         At the time of the administrative hearing held on May 6, 2015, Plaintiff was 41 years of age and had obtained a general equivalency diploma. Id. at 92-93. Plaintiffs past relevant work consisted of working as a cashier, caregiver, and certified nursing assistant. Id. at 72-73. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work as a document preparer, escort vehicle driver, and small product assembler. Id. at 74.

         Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, and the request was denied on October 6, 2016. Id. at 7-13. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). Both parties have submitted appeal briefs to the Court, see Docs. 11, 12, and the case is now ready for decision. The Court has carefully reviewed the entire transcript and repeats the facts and arguments presented in the parties' briefs only to the extent necessary to provide context to the final decision.

         Plaintiff's medical conditions are supported by various medical reports in the record. The reports indicate that on February 22, 2012, Plaintiff presented to Dr. Tarik Sidani, D.O., because she injured her left knee getting out of bed two months earlier. (Doc. 10, pp. 429, 502). Plaintiff reported that taking anti-inflammatories and pain medication provided her with little relief. Id. Dr. Sidani ordered a left knee magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") study. Id.

         On March 1, 2012, Dr. Sidani reviewed Plaintiffs MRI study, and he did not see any specific meniscus pathology. Id. at 428, 430. The left knee MRI study showed early osteoarthritis with small effusion. Id. at 430, 494. Dr. Sidani then administered a combination Kenalog and Marcaine steroid injection, and noted that if the pain continued, an arthroscopy would be recommended. Id. at 428, 501.

         On June 25, 2012, Plaintiff reported that the steroid injection helped her pain, but she continued to have mechanical symptoms that caused her to fall on a couple of occasions. Id. at 428. Dr. Sidani scheduled Plaintiff for surgery, but he cautioned that it might be a purely diagnostic procedure. Id. On July 3, 2012, Plaintiff underwent a left knee arthroscopy with abrasion chondroplasty. Id. at 432-33, 506-07. Surgical pathology showed left knee arthroscopic debridement. Id. at 508. Then, on July 19, 2012, Plaintiff presented to the emergency department of North Arkansas Regional Medical Center ("NARMC") with extreme left knee pain, and she was prescribed Norco. /of. at 509-11.

         On July 25, 2012, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Sidani three weeks after the left knee arthroscopy and complained of severe knee pain. Id. at 427. Dr. Sidani recommended Plaintiff get off crutches, weight bear as tolerated, wean off pain medication, and participate in formal physical therapy. Id. On September 24, 2012, Plaintiff reported that her knee had not stopped hurting since the surgery. Id. at 442. Dr. Victor Armstrong, D.O., suggested that Plaintiff obtain a second orthopedic opinion. Id. Plaintiffs Celexa prescription was changed to Prozac at that time, due to possible side effects. Id. at 443.

         On October 30, 2012, Dr. D. Wayne Brooks, M.D., wrote in his records that he had managed Plaintiff's chronic pain for a couple years. Id. at 427. Dr. Brooks noted that Plaintiff had been doing very well with oral pain medications. Id. Plaintiffs medication included Oxycodone, along with Clonazepam for muscle spasms and anxiety. Id. at 434.

         On March 5, 2013, Plaintiff reported having back pain and a burning sensation in the left lower extremity and buttock area, and she also complained that her Prozac prescription was not working as well. Id. at 448. Upon examination, Plaintiffs gait was found to be within normal limits. Dr. Armstrong started Plaintiff on Effexor and tapered the Prozac. Id. Oxycodone was also prescribed, and a lumbar spine MRI study was ordered. Id. at 448-49.

         On March 20, 2013, a review of the lumbar spine MRI study revealed a small disc herniation at ¶ 5-S1. Id. at 450, 516. Plaintiff reported that Effexor was helping a lot with her depressive disorder. Id. at 450. On May 22, 2013, Plaintiff presented to the emergency department of NARMC and reported difficulty taking a deep ...

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