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Penny v. Astrue

May 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge


In April 2007, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") Gerard J. Rickert denied Plaintiff Linda C. Penney's application for a period of disability insurance benefits. ALJ Rickert based his decision on a finding that Plaintiff was able to perform all of her past relevant work.

In November 2008, Plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint for Judicial Review (#3) against Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In May 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#12). In July 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#15). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#12).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge.

In August 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning June 15, 2003. The agency denied Plaintiff's application initially in November 2005 and on reconsideration in April 2006. In May 2006, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. In February 2007, the ALJ held a hearing. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. The ALJ subsequently issued a decision in April 2007 denying Plaintiff benefits on the basis that she could perform all of her past relevant work. In August 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In November 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks outright reversal; in the alternative, she asks the Court to remand the case for a new hearing.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff alleged disability based on fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, hypertension, obesity, celiac disease, and depression. (R. 11-12.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments including fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and obesity. (R. 11.) The ALJ found no medical evidence to support celiac disease and found Plaintiff's depression to be nonsevere. (R. 12.)

In April 2003, Plaintiff's primary care physician, Dr. Narain Mandhan, diagnosed Plaintiff with depression, allergies, hypothyroidism, nail fungus, and weight gain. (R. 223.)

Dr. Mandhan increased Plaintiff's Prozac dosage to control her depression. (R. 223.) At Plaintiff's next appointment in May 2003, Dr. Mandhan noted that the increased dosage controlled the depression symptoms, and Plaintiff was "doing well." (R. 222.) Dr. Mandhan also noted Plaintiff's high blood pressure. (R. 222.)In June 2003, Dr. Mandhan noted Plaintiff's hypertension. (R. 221.) In July 2003, Plaintiff requested that Dr. Mandhan write her a letter to discontinue her "Curves" exercise sessions because of a muscle strain. (R. 220.) Later in July 2003, Dr. Mandhan noted that Plaintiff's muscle strain had resolved and her hypertension had improved. (R. 219.)

In April 2004, Dr. Mandhan noted that Plaintiff complained of pain from fibromyalgia, a condition she had for the past fifteen years. (R. 216.) She also noted that Plaintiff's arthritis pain was worsening and that Plaintiff cried during the visit. (R. 216.) Plaintiff was taking both Darvocet and Tylenol to control her pain. (R. 216.)Dr. Mandhan instructed Plaintiff to discontinue the Darvocet and Tylenol because they would damage her liver if she took too much.

(R. 214.) Dr. Mandhan prescribed Skelaxin as a substitute. (R. 214.) Later in April, Plaintiff visited Dr. Mandhan and reported that Prozac helped the depression and she was overcoming the fibromyalgia flare, but that her new job was very stressful. (R. 215.) At Plaintiff's next visit, Dr. Mandhan again noted that Plaintiff's depression had improved, but she had quit her job because of her inability to handle the tasks involved. (R. 212.) Plaintiff was taking Flexeril, and also renewed her Darvocet prescription. (R. 212.) Dr. Mandhan told Plaintiff that if she continued to have problems with her fibromyalgia and arthritis, she could look into filing for disability. (R. 212.)The clinic notes state that Plaintiff "seems to be positive and motivated and continues to look for employment in the meantime." (R. 212.) In July 2004, Plaintiff reported less pain and told the doctor that she continued to exercise although her right elbow was painful.

(R. 211.) Plaintiff stated that she felt fatigued, but Dr. Mandhan could not determine an objective reason for the fatigue. (R. 211.)Plaintiff continued to see Dr. Mandhan regularly.

(R. 208-10, 279-82.) In August 2006, Plaintiff told Dr. Mandhan that she was feeling "a lot better now" and had quit smoking, and Dr. Mandhan observed that her depression seemed much better. (R. 280.)

Plaintiff also received treatment from two chiropractors, Dr. Kevin Gray and Dr. Robert Middleton. Dr. Gray treated Plaintiff regularly from June 2003 until March 2004 for exacerbations of chronic pain in the back, neck, and other joint regions. (R. 197-204.) Dr. Gray generally commented that Plaintiff showed excellent response to her treatments. (R. 199, 203.) In 2004 and 2005, Dr. Middleton treated Plaintiff for muscle and back pain, ...

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