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Burdge v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

August 27, 2013



DAVE WALIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Annabeth O. Burdge has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). Burdge applied for DIB on December 13, 2011, alleging that she was disabled as of December 12, 2010, due to chronic abdominal pain, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, endometriosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), memory problems and attention deficit disorder (ADD) (Tr. 247). The Commissioner denied Burdge's claim on initial consideration (Tr. 146-149) and on reconsideration (Tr. 157-159). Burdge requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr. 160).

ALJ George A. Jacobs conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 24, 2012 (Tr. 33-71). Burdge attended with her attorney, Russ Wilkey (Tr. 33). Burdge and vocational expert (VE) William Harpool testified at the hearing (Tr. 39-65, 66-70). Following the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Jacobs entered a hearing decision on November 6, 2012, that found Burdge is not disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act (Tr. 9-28).

In his adverse decision, ALJ Jacobs made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 12, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1571, et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: right knee femoral condyle and MCL injury; chronic abdominal pain status post-multiple surgeries; bipolar disorder; anxiety disorder; depression and attention deficit disorder (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except: the claimant is able to perform occasional postural activities but never climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolding and must avoid situational hazards like vibration, heights and machinery; and the claimant is able to perform simple repetitive tasks for goal oriented work, but no production rate pace work and is able to have only occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors and no contact with the public.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on December 19, 1981, and was 28-years-old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. (20 C.F.R. 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled" whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1569, 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from December 12, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(f)).

Burdge sought review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 5). The Appeals Council denied her request for review, finding no reason under the Rules to review ALJ Jacobs' decision (Tr. 1-4). The present lawsuit followed.

Background Information.

Annabeth Burdge, born Dec. 19, 1981, was 30 years old at the time of the administrative hearing in 2012 (Tr. 39). She has two years of college education, is 5' 6" tall and weighs 140 lbs. (Tr. 47-48). Burdge served in the United States Army on active duty between 1999 and 2012, until her medical discharge due to bipolar disorder and abdominal pain, which a medical examination board (MEB) determined prevents her from performing her military duties as a heavy construction equipment operator (Tr. 359-366).

Burdge's medical history while in the Army reflects complaints of chronic low back pain as the result of a training accident that occurred when she fell some 15 feet and landed on her back while attempting to climb a rope in basic training in 1999 (Tr. 360). Burdge complained to the MEB that this chronic low back pain prevents her from sitting for extended periods of time, driving heavy equipment, lifting heavy loads or wearing body armor (Tr. 360). Lumbar spine xray examination in May of 2011, however, was negative; and, Burdge denied any treatment with pain injections, chiropractic adjustments, neurosurgery or orthopedic surgery (Id.). Physical examination confirmed essentially a normal range of motion in the spine and normal motor strength.

In February of 2009, Burdge suffered a tear of the medial collateral ligament of her right knee during an airborne infantry parachute jump that necessitated her use of crutches and a cane for approximately a year (Tr. 360). Burdge alleges that her knee injury leaves her in constant pain and that she needs surgery as a result. An MRI of her right knee obtained in February of 2009, confirmed a 12 mm × 2 mm deep osteochondral defect of the lateral femoral condyle of her right knee associated with mild intensity bone marrow edema and a mild partial tear/sprain of the MCL. (Id.). Burdge reported at the time that operating heavy construction equipment for extended time periods increased her knee pain, as did prolonged walking, squatting, climbing, running and jumping. Her treatment for ...

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