The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy Mcdade Senior United States District Judge
Thursday, 31 March, 2011 11:36:48 AM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD
Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance (Doc. 13). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED and Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.
On September 14, 2005, Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) alleging a disability that began on January 10, 2003 (Tr. 81). Plaintiff's application for DIB was denied initially (Tr. 63) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 70). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJ John Dodson issued an unfavorable decision on August 11, 2008 (Tr. 48). Plaintiff timely requested review. The Appeals Council denied review on June 25, 2009, rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency decision (Tr. 1). Plaintiff appealed to this Court and her arguments are centered on errors she believes the ALJ made with respect to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity to do work and in finding that there were jobs that Plaintiff could perform in light of her limitations.
Plaintiff's date last insured was September 30, 2007, when she was 48 years old. Therefore, she must show that she was disabled prior to that date.
Plaintiff was employed as a Licensed Practical Nurse from May 16, 1994 to her alleged onset date of January 30, 2003. Plaintiff's medical conditions include Hepatitis C, vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels), degenerative joint disease, problems with her extremities including pain and numbness, and short-term memory loss. Plaintiff asserts that her Hepatitis C and related treatments caused tiredness and vasculitis in her legs, which in turn caused memory loss and confusion.
On August 10, 2004, Plaintiff complained to a referral doctor, Dr. Thomas Brander, of a rash on her legs that had recurred 8 times over the previous year. (Plaintiff's primary doctor is Travis Swink). Dr. Brander suspected leukecytoclastic vasculitis that may be related to an infection of Hepatitis C. Dr. Brander's notes do not reveal any particular complaints of pain or limitations related to the condition. Plaintiff was referred to Dr. Mark Getz. However, she was initially seen by a nurse, Cyndee Dickinson, in Dr. Getz's office on September 19, 2005. Ms. Dickinson noted that Plaintiff complained of burning in the ankles and legs, swelling and morning stiffness. She complained of constant pain (which ranged from 4 to 10 on a 10 point scale), however, the pain would resolve for days or up to two weeks. She reported smoking 1 to 1.5 packs of cigarettes per day, limited alcohol use, and exercising on a treadmill with 5 pound weights. Upon examination, Ms. Dickinson found that Plaintiff was not in acute distress, no "reproducible tenderness or lack of range of motion or deformities present, in her upper body. No swelling or tenderness in her ankles and toes and only "slightly decreased flexion and extension" in her ankles. Ms. Dickinson suggested no medications and a follow up. A month later, Dr. Getz noted that Plaintiff complained of burning pain in her legs and stiffness in the morning but no joint swelling or tenderness. Her vasculitis was being treated with steroids. The record does not reveal any other specific complaints related to her vasculitis (nor has Plaintiff pointed to any part of the medical record that would reveal any additional complaints to treating physicians related to this condition). The Court notes that throughout 2004, Plaintiff's complaints regarding the rash on her legs (which was diagnosed as vasculitis in 2005) appear cosmetic in nature (i.e. equated to a skin condition requiring dermatological care) and not related to any pain, swelling, or other condition in her legs.
In order to treat her Hepatitis C, Plaintiff started a form of chemotherapy in February, 2006. 4 weeks into the 48 week treatment, Plaintiff complained to Ms. Joanne Gartman*fn1 of fatigue, body aches, forgetfulness, insomnia, depression, and stabbing pains in her chest. A physical examination was unremarkable. However, her side-effects were noted to be "severe" and her doctor approved her travel to and from Texas so that she could live with her daughter in order to alleviate her depression and for support while on therapy. Complaints of depression occurred throughout 2006 although there does not appear to be any other significant or on-going complaints during the year. Physical examinations conducted throughout 2006 were unremarkable. On September 26, 2006, Plaintiff complained of short term memory loss and Dr. Herman J. Dick noted that an MRI of the brain showed "white matter lesion which was nonspecific." Dr. Dick gave a clinical impression of "mild cognitive dysfunction." In early 2007, Plaintiff's complaints regarding her Hepatitis C treatment included fatigue. The treatment ended on January 6, 2007. At a March 6, 2007 follow-up with Ms. Gartman, Plaintiff indicated that "she is feeling much better and almost all of her side effects have subsided with an exception to her neurological symptoms." She also noted that her forgetfulness is "improving." Ms. Gartman reports that her treatment was successful and that side effects from the treatment have "dramatically improved."
In 2003, Plaintiff complained of right shoulder pain. In August, 2003, she was prescribed physical therapy and stretching exercises; however, Plaintiff did not follow through with physical therapy. Plaintiff's chief complaints in 2004 were back pain and left shoulder pain. Plaintiff had surgery on her left shoulder in early 2006. After the surgery, she continued having left shoulder pain; by February 10, 2006, however, she was "doing much better" although she still had "some discomfort." She was encouraged to "continue range of motion and full activity." There is no evidence in the record that Plaintiff underwent back surgery, it was treated with injected epidural pain medication (which provided relief), and the records reveal that her back condition was due to degenerative changes.
A Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (RFC) was performed by agency doctors on January 24, 2005. It noted exertional limitations (lifting 50 pounds occasionally, 25 pounds frequently, stand /walk for 6 hours a day). The only postural limitation was no climbing on ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Overhead reaching was limited due to shoulder impingement and there were no other remarkable limitations noted. In the "comments" section, the doctor noted full range of motion, standing, and walking notwithstanding the pain Plaintiff reported and that Plaintiff could perform a medium level of work.
A "Mini-Mental State Examination" was performed in December, 2007. Plaintiff scored 28 out of 30 which revealed ...