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Werline v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 19, 2015

Barbara Jo Werline, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.


JOHN Z. BOYLE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Barbara Jo Werline seeks judicial review and reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Social Security disability benefits.[1] Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal error, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. Background

Plaintiff was born in October 1951. She has a high school education and has previously worked as a data entry clerk and telephone sales representative.

On July 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, supplemental security income, and disabled widow's benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. In her application, Plaintiff alleges disability beginning June 1, 2007. Her application was denied initially on December 8, 2010, and upon reconsideration on May 15, 2011. On March 9, 2012, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.

On July 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision final.

II. Plaintiff's Medical History

At the end of July 2007, Plaintiff went to the emergency room complaining of nausea, vomiting, leg pain, and weakness. A.R. 649. She was admitted to the hospital with acute renal failure due to diabetes and diabetic neuropathy of the legs. A.R. 394, 397. She was discharged in good condition after several days, but returned later complaining of dizziness, weakness, increased pulse, and left leg pain. A.R. 349-56, 471-72. Plaintiff was diagnosed with gastrointestinal bleeding with anemia. A.R. 623-645. In September 2008, Dr. Mark Tosca, her treating physician at the time, noted that the diabetes was "diet controlled." A.R. 449.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Tosca in October, November, and December 2007. Dr. Tosca's notes report that Plaintiff said she was "feeling a lot better" and "doing fairly well." A.R. 457. At the same time, MRIs and x-rays of the Plaintiff's lower back revealed an old compression fracture in her mid-back and degenerative changes in her lower back. A.R. 493-94, 499, 502, 513.

In December 2007, Plaintiff saw Dr. George C. Parides and complained of increased shortness of breath and wheezing. A.R. 344-45. She reported only wheezing upon "significant exertion such as yard work." A.R. 344. Plaintiff stated that she did not feel she had "too much difficulty with shortness of breath when she [went] shopping or even walking from her car to [a doctor's office]." Id.

In July 2008, Plaintiff saw Dr. Tosca, complaining of right left pain. She complained she could not rest much because she was caring for five children. A.R. 444-47.

In March 2009, Plaintiff saw Dr. Asim Khan for pain management. She was diagnosed with degeneration of the lower back with disc bulge, radiculopathy, and chronic pain syndrome. A.R. 511. On examination, Dr. Khan noted that Plaintiff was able to heel-walk, toe-walk, squat, and climb up on the examination table without difficulty. A.R. 514. Dr. Khan continued Plaintiff's medication management and prescribed Methadone and epidural steroid injections. A.R. 511. In April 2009, Plaintiff reported she was doing well. A.R. 551. She reported her pain was better controlled with medication and she had no side effects. Id. However, she still had leg pain. Id.

In June 2009, Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Khan. A.R. 903-04. She reported improvement in her pain, functioning, and quality of life with epidural injections and medications. Id.

In December 2009, Plaintiff went to the emergency room because she was vomiting blood and was diagnosed with gastrointestinal hemorrhaging due to gastritis and esophagitis. A.R. 565. She also had gallstones and acute renal failure. She underwent an ileostomy to remove a portion of her colon and her gallbladder due to infection. A.R. 722-23. During the surgery, she had a small heart attack. A.R. 724-27. In January 2010, Plaintiff followed up with her surgeon. A.R. 716. She reported being easily fatigued and having loose stools due to the length of the small intestine that was resected. Id.

In February 2010, Plaintiff saw Dr. Sy for follow-up care. A.R. 434-35. Dr. Sy noted that the Plaintiff had stopped smoking and was off her inhalers. A.R. 434. The Plaintiff's physical exam was normal. The physician found a full range of motion in her back. By March 2010, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Fang that she was "nearly back to full activity" and that medication was helping with diarrhea. A.R. 718.

In March 2010, Plaintiff saw cardiologist Himanshu H. Shukla, M.D. A.R. 730-32. She reported walking for exercise one to two times a week. A.R. 730. She was also completing household chores. Id. Diagnostic tests showed Plaintiff had average exercise tolerance and a normal heart rate. Id.

In December 2010, Plaintiff underwent a consultative examination by Elizabeth A. Ottney, D.O. A.R. 768-78. Plaintiff stated that her diabetes was controlled by her diet. A.R. 771. She also said she had never been hospitalized for back pain. A.R. 771. Dr. Ottney performed a pulmonary function test and found no evidence of acute respiratory illness and said that obstruction was unlikely. A.R. 768, 773. Dr. Ottney found Plaintiff had normal muscle strength, balance, coordination, stance, gait, range of motion, and motor skills. A.R. 773. Dr. Ottney opined that Plaintiff was capable of occasionally lifting 20 pounds and frequently lifting 10 pounds without any limitations in standing, walking, sitting, climbing ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, reaching, handling, fingering, or feeling. A.R. 774-77.

In the same month, state agency physician Dr. James J. Green reviewed the record and opined that Plaintiff was capable of occasionally lifting 20 pounds and frequently lifting 10 pounds. A.R 50-52.

In January 2011, Dr. Shukla reported that Plaintiff had increased leg pain with walking, but no other new symptoms. A.R. 792. Plaintiff continued to exercise and participate in household chores. A.R. 793. In May 2011, state agency physician ...

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