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Buster v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green

February 28, 2014

POLLY BUSTER, PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LANNY KING, Magistrate Judge.

Polly Buster filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied her application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Plaintiff asserts that the administrative law judge (ALJ) made several errors, but she focuses upon the ALJ's rejection of her treating physician's opinion that she can alternately sit and stand at a work station (with short breaks every two hours) for "less than 4 hours, " would be expected to be absent from work due to treatment/symptoms "all the time, " and "may need walker and/or wheelchair." Administrative Record (AR), p. 374.

For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED and the Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED.

Summary Of The Medical Evidence

In 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits. AR, p. 20. She has not worked for at least 15 years and, therefore, has no past relevant work. AR, p. 53. She is a younger individual born in 1962. AR, p. 63.

Plaintiff alleges that she was involved in a car wreck at age 16 and has since experienced some degree of pain in her lower back and legs. AR, p. 303. The pain worsened significantly in 2006. AR, p. 148.

Plaintiff described the pain in the Pain and Daily Activities Questionnaire submitted in connection with her disability claim as affecting her ability to sit and stand:

The pain in my back gets so bad that I cry with it. I can't sit still. I can't stand up straight. My legs get to feeling like [they are] burning [and] tingling. I can't feel them. They give out on me. [They are] heavy, numb, stay swollen a lot. Right leg won't bend. It gets so hard to move. My chest starts hurting. It gets hard to breath. The [doctor] says I have an enlarged heart. My legs stay cold, like my circulation is bad.
(AR, p. 148).

In September, 2010, Paula Malhotra, M.D., examined Plaintiff at the request of the Commissioner. Dr. Malhotra noted that Plaintiff used a walker throughout the examination and Plaintiff reported that she had been using it for about a year. AR, p. 304. Dr. Malhotra stated that Plaintiff is an obese smoker.

Based on her performance during the exam, her insistence upon using the walker, and her inability to get on and off the exam room table without "extreme amounts of assistance, " Dr. Malhotra opined that: 1) Plaintiff can sit for long periods of time but needs to "readjust" every hour; 2) She "should [] use her walker for all ambulation on all terrain" and even during readjustment "standing from sitting [and] sitting from standing"; 3) She should not to drive due to difficulty moving her right foot from gas to brake; 4) She can stand 30 minutes with a walker, and maybe 2 to 3 minutes without it; 5) She gets tired if required to walk more than 20 feet or lift more than 5 pounds. AR, pp. 304-305.

Dr. Malhotra recommended that "this patient have x-rays or MRI studies done of her lower back, hips and probably she should have an orthopedic examination for further examination of the muscoloskeletal exam." AR, p. 305.

In November, 2010, the Commissioner obtained a lumbar spine x-ray. The x-ray showed "joint space narrowing between L4 and L5 and L5 and S1 and also showed mild osteophyte formation on L4 and L5. This is consistent with mild degenerative disk disease." AR, p. 333.

In February, 2011, state agency program physician Amanda Lange opined limitations very similar to the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC) finding. Compare Dr. Lange's findings at AR, pp. 68-69 and ALJ's RFC at AR, p. 26. Dr. Lange rejected Dr. Malhotra's findings, to the extent thy exceeded her own findings, because Dr. Malhotra did not have the benefit of ...


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