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Spencer v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

July 30, 2015



ROBERT E. WIER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Kristy Louise Spencer, appeals the Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Benefits (collectively, "benefits").[1] The matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court GRANTS the Commissioner's motion (DE #16) and DENIES Spencer's motion (DE #14) because substantial evidence supports the findings resulting in the administrative decision, and the decision rests on proper legal standards.


Spencer is 44 years old. See R. at 66. During her career, she worked as a school bus driver, crisis line operator, and Walmart shoe department sales clerk. R. at 35-37. She earned a GED in 1996. R. at 36-37. Spencer alleges her disability began on September 29, 2011. R. at 11. She applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as for supplemental security income, on January 23, 2012. R. at 11, 80. Her claims were initially denied on May 16, 2012, R. at 80, 114-17, and denied upon reconsideration on September 6, 2012. R. at 11, 121-23, 124-26. Spencer then filed a written request for a hearing on September 10, 2012. R. at 11, 128-29. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Don C. Paris held a video hearing on April 4, 2013. R. at 11. Spencer appeared and testified in Hazard, Kentucky, and the ALJ presided in Lexington. Spencer was represented by counsel. R. at 11. Tina Stambaugh, an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), also appeared and testified. R. at 11. The ALJ denied Spencer's claims on April 26, 2013. R. at 24.

In his decision, the ALJ found that Spencer's degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, cerebral degeneration (including Chiari malformation and headaches), and affective disorder were severe, but that these impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. R. at 13-15. The ALJ found that Spencer's claimed anxiety impairment was not severe due (at least in part) to failure to satisfy the 12-month durational requirement. R. at 14. ALJ Paris found that Spencer had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work with certain limitations. R. at 16. After thoroughly reviewing Spencer's course of treatment, the ALJ determined that Spencer's statements concerning the effects of her impairments were not entirely credible. R. at 21. ALJ Paris rejected Dr. June Abadilla's (the treating primary care physician's) opinion that Spencer can work but a fraction of a full 8-hour workday because it was not well supported by medically acceptable diagnostic techniques and was inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. Id. The ALJ gave great weight to the April 2012 opinions of consultative examiners Drs. Alexandra Boske and Greg Lynch, whose findings the ALJ found to be consistent with those of the qualified state agency consultants and Dr. John Gilbert. R. at 22. The ALJ found that Spencer is unable to perform past relevant work but that, based on the VE's testimony, Spencer can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. at 22-23. The ALJ concluded that Spencer has not been under a disability from September 29, 2011, through the date of decision. R. at 23. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's determination on July 8, 2014. R. at 1-3.

Spencer's relevant (to the arguments) medical history begins in 2009, [2] when Dr. H. Michael Oghia diagnosed her with interstitial cystitis and other bladder-related ailments. See R. at 138, 520. Dr. Oghia, after a hiatus, continued to treat Spencer into 2012 for related maladies, including irritable voiding symptoms. See R. at 513, 518. In May 2012, Dr. Oghia admitted Spencer to Kentucky River Medical Center for treatment related to these symptoms. R. at 527.

Spencer presented to St. Joseph Health System on May 4, 2011, for anemia-related treatment. R. at 433-35. Family Medical Specialty Clinic (FMSC) treated Spencer, on referral from Dr. Abadilla, in October 2011 for cervical herniated nucleus pulposus, cervical osteoarthritis, and cervicalgia. R. at 259. Spencer generally complained of pain, weakness, stiffness, numbness/tingling, and impaired sleep. Id. St. Mark's Family Clinic diagnosed Spencer with headaches, interstitial cystitis, obesity, spasmodic torticollis, vitamin D deficiency, osteoarthritis, peptic ulcer disease, anemia, degeneration of the cervical intervertebral disc, and lumbago. R. at 262-63. Spencer continued treatment at St. Mark's, at FMSC, and with Dr. Abadilla into November 2011. R. at 264-68, 298-305. The conditions mostly continued into early-mid 2012. R. at 449-51, 453-55. After falling and injuring her shoulder, St. Mark's and Dr. Abadilla again treated Plaintiff in January 2013. R. at 624-27.

On September 12, 2011, Kentucky River Medical Center (KRMC) took an MRI of Spencer's cervical spine, noting a disc herniation and a minimal Chiari malformation. R. at 296-97. KRMC again treated Spencer in July 2012. R. at 557-58. In December 2011, Dr. Dee Abrams diagnosed cervical degenerative disc disease, Chiari malformation, lumbago, and lumbar radiculopathy. R. at 269. Also in December 2011, Dr. John Gilbert assessed Spencer; he found a variety of conditions, including cervical radiculitis, disc degeneration, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety, pain disorders, headaches, major depressive disorder, brain compression, cervicalgia, and neck strains. R. at 412-15. Dr. Gilbert followed up with Spencer in February 2012 for low back pain and leg pain, R. at 272-75, and again in April 2012 for similar complaints (along with Dr. Abrams), R. at 321. Dr. Gilbert ordered an MRI in January 2012. See R. at 340. This resulted in "unremarkable" findings. R. at 335, 340. Dr. Gilbert continued to treat Spencer through June 2012. R. at 321-26, 342-46, 355-59, 367-69.

Dr. Lynch, a psychiatric consultative examiner, evaluated Spencer in April 2012 and diagnosed major depressive disorder, Chiari malformation, neck and back injury, migraines, and chronic pain. R. at 421-25. Dr. Lynch noted that Spencer's GAF score of 54, along with other test results, indicated moderate difficulties in social or occupational functioning, as well as other moderate limitations. R. at 424. Dr. Alexandra Boske, a Southern Medical Group consultative examiner, also assessed Spencer in April 2012 for back pain and migraines. R. at 426-28. Dr. Boske found cervical neck spasms, some motion limitations, and normal gait, grip, and motor strength. Id. Dr. Boske diagnosed back pain, migraines, and possible cervical disc disease. Id.

In May 2012, Dr. Abadilla reported that Spencer complained of pain. R. at 447. She completed a first "medical report" assessment in June 2012. R. at 581-86. In July 2012, Dr. Abadilla assessed paresthesia, Chiari malformation, and degenerative disc disease. R. at 581-85. Spencer followed up with Dr. Abadilla again in September 2012. R. at 611-14. Dr. Abadilla completed a physical capacities assessment on November 13, 2012. R. at 587. She continued treating Spencer into January 2013, R. at 624-27, and she conducted a third assessment of Spencer on March 22, 2013. R. at 639.

From August 2012 to February 2013, Dr. Thomas Karelis, a pain management specialist, evaluated Spencer for low back, neck, and right knee pain. R. at 642-55. Dr. Karelis noted right disc herniation and minimal Chiari malformation, as well as certain musculoskeletal tenderness, an antalgic gait, and chronic pain. R. at 653-55. Additionally, in August 2012, Dr. Karelis at Kentucky Pain Management treated Spencer for neck, low back, and knee pain, as well as other ailments. R. at 609-10.

Drs. Dan Vandivier, Celine Payne-Gair, and Carlos Hernandez, non-examining physicians or psychologists, assessed Spencer's medical history and records and reached "not disabled" conclusions. Dr. Vandivier did so in May 2012, R. at 57, 62, and Drs. Payne-Gair and Hernandez in August 2012. R. at 90, 92-93, 95. Additionally, a January 21, 2013, MRI of the lumbosacral spine from Marcum and Wallace Hospital was consistent with early disc degenerative change but was "[o]therwise normal[.]" R. at 628. Finally, Kentucky River Community Care (KRCC) treated Spencer on February 22, 2013, for panic disorder and panic attacks that occurred over an approximately 6-month durational period. R. at 663-64.


A. Standard of Review

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