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Pamela Thomas v. Michael J. Astrue

August 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff Pamela Thomas seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Based on this court's review of the Administrative Record, as well as the pleadings and memoranda on file, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied. The decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.


Plaintiff applied for DIB in May 2005 and for SSI in September 2005, alleging that she became disabled in January 2002 as a result of a back impairment. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After requesting a hearing, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Vocational expert James Breen also testified. The ALJ issued a final decision on September 29, 2008, finding that plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.


At the time of the hearing on June 5, 2008, plaintiff was 52 years old, single, and living with her daughter and older sister. She has an Associates Degree in child development and a certified nurse's assistant license through the State of Ohio that was not currently valid. Her past work included bell ringer, cashier, nurse/health aide, room attendant and warehouser. She was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 190 pounds. She had last worked in January 2002 as a nurse's aide. Plaintiff testified that she had back and shoulder problems, describing a constant heaviness in her shoulder blades, and a constant "fire" in her low back. She had stated that she had arthritis in her left hand and broke a toe on her right foot. She further stated that she had trouble walking, sitting, lifting and carrying. She estimated that she could lift two to three pounds, and in an eight hour day walk one hour, stand one hour and sit for 15 minutes.

Plaintiff told the ALJ that on a typical day she got up between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., showered, and ate. She was able to dress, groom and bath herself. She would then either go back to bed or rest on a love seat, watching television. She would have a snack in the afternoon, dinner around 6:00 p.m. and then will lay down and watch more television. She went to bed around 8:30 to 9:00 p.m. She was able to wash dishes but could not grocery shop. She had no hobbies or activities but did physical therapy exercises with the help of her family.

Plaintiff testified that she suffers from bipolar disorder and anxiety. She experiences panic attacks described as the blood soaring out of control and her thoughts become scattered.

She has "slow down periods" and forgets things. She would watch television, but when the commercials came on she would forget what she was watching. She also had trouble reading. At the time of the hearing she was not on any medication for psychological conditions and received no mental health treatment.

Medical Evidence

The medical evidence demonstrates that plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident on January 19, 2002, the alleged disability onset date. She sought emergency room treatment. The records indicate that her neurological, motor, sensory and cerebellar functions were normal and the x-rays of her cervical spine, mandible and right shoulder were all described as normal or unremarkable. She was discharged with prescriptions for pain medication.

Her medical records from prior to the alleged onset date indicate that she had already been experiencing low back pain symptoms since 2001. An MRI conducted on May 10, 2001, showed mild degenerative disc disease throughout the lower lumbar spine, with no bony abnormality. A December 15, 2001, MRI demonstrated a small central and left sided disc herniation at L4-S1 and a moderate degree on canal stenosis at L4-5.

Between 2001 and 2007 plaintiff frequently went to treating physicians complaining of back pain, foot and shoulder pain. Her medications were adjusted as appropriate to include Ultram, Vioxx, Naprosyn and, by 2008, Soma and Vicodin. The treatment notes also included references to complaints of depression or "nerves being bad."

On September 7, 2007, plaintiff underwent a decompressor lumbar laminectomy surgery at L4-5 with medial facetectomy and left L5-S1 diskectomy. January 20, 2002, x-rays of her right shoulder and cervical spine showed no dramatic abnormalities of the shoulder and a normal cervical spine. A February 22, 2002, MRI study of the right shoulder showed mild AC degenerative changes. An August 28, 2002, MRI of the lumbar spine indicated stable appearance of the lumbar ...

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