United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington
SANDRA M. HARDING, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge
Sandra M. Harding seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The matter is before the
Court on cross-motions for summary judgment (DEs 11 and 13).
filed her current application for disability insurance benefits
(DIB) in January 2014, alleging disability beginning July 20,
2009, due to carpal tunnel syndrome, left knee arthritis, and
low back pain (Tr. 204-05, 219). After a hearing on December
1, 2015 (Tr. 59-93), an ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim on
December 17, 2015 (Tr. 38-58), and the Appeals Council then
denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), making
the ALJ's decision the final agency decision for purposes
of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, 422.210(a).
last met the special insured status required for eligibility
for DIB on December 31, 2014 (Tr. 207). She was 48 years old
on that date (Tr. 64), has a high school equivalent education
(Tr. 220), and worked in the past as a machine operator (Tr.
stopped working in March 2009 for reasons unrelated to her
alleged disability (Tr. 219, 348). She variously reported
that she stopped working to take care of her sick daughter
(Tr. 219), but said in 2013, that she was laid off from her
factory job in March 2009 (Tr. 348). There are no treatment
records from any source prior to January 2014, but in
connection with her prior application, Plaintiff underwent a
consultative examination with Edgar A. Lopez-Suescum, M.D. in
May 2013. Dr. Lopez-Suescum found Plaintiff had a normal gait
and got on and off the exam table without limitations (Tr.
349). She had decreased chest expansion and bilateral
expiratory wheezing, and she developed moderate shortness of
breath during range of motion testing. Plaintiff had full
grip strength in her hands and full strength in her arms and
legs, as well as well-preserved gross and fine manipulation
skills. There was no evidence of carpal tunnel, but Dr.
Lopez-Suescum noted Plaintiff could have arthritis of the
wrists. He assessed chronic laryngitis, tobacco use disorder,
chronic bronchitis, obesity, rule out coronary artery disease
and pulmonary emphysema, and rule out wrist arthritis (Tr.
March 2014, Plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer and
subsequently underwent a mastectomy and lymph node biopsy,
and started chemotherapy (Tr. 406.-408, 543). Plaintiff's
primary care doctor Sherif Malek, D.O., and her oncologist
Muhammad Ali Zaydan, M.D., managed her treatment during her
chemotherapy (Tr. 418-507, 508-77, 589-671, 672-79, 701-39).
Plaintiff developed lymphedema in her extremities, which Dr.
Zayden attributed to the lymph node dissection (Tr. 556). She
also had dermatitis (Tr. 605), and reported the chemotherapy
caused various symptoms including burning pain in her arms
and legs and generally feeling ill (Tr. 603, 609, 615).
August 6, 2014, Dr. Malek noted Plaintiff had finished the
hard chemotherapy, but would continue to have weekly
injections. She reported that her upper and lower extremity
edema was greatly improved and she was starting to feel much
better (Tr. 619). Dr. Malek found Plaintiff looked “so
much better today.” The edema in her left arm had
significantly decreased, although she still had edema in her
feet. Her skin also appeared to be getting better (Tr. 620).
August 13, 2014, Plaintiff reported that since her
chemotherapy ended three weeks earlier, she had been
“doing so much better” (Tr. 627). Dr. Malek noted
Plaintiff looked better, seemed happier, and was more alert
(Tr. 629). On August 29, 2014, Dr. Malek noted Plaintiff was
getting much better and her chemotherapy-induced dermatitis
was resolving. He thought Plaintiff's edema would also
continue to get better (Tr. 635).
September 5, 2014, Plaintiff had no concerns or issues except
for the edema (Tr. 639). Two weeks later, Dr. Malek noted
that Plaintiff had edema in her right hand, but the
dermatitis had significantly improved and was almost resolved
(Tr. 644). On October 3, 2014, Dr. Malek stated
Plaintiff's lymphadenopathy was significantly improved
(Tr. 647). He observed Plaintiff's dermatitis had
resolved and her legs looked normal again. Plaintiff was able
to walk up to a half mile (Tr. 650).
November 20, 2014, Dr. Malek noted Plaintiff was not having
significant lymphedema. She was wearing a compression
stocking on her left arm and compression glove on her left
hand. Dr. Malek commented that Plaintiff looked much better
than she had in quite a while (Tr. 663). He also said
Plaintiff had come a long way and was overall doing much
better than she had.
to the date she was last insured for benefits, Plaintiff also
had treatment for knee pain. In April 2014, Ron P. Handshoe,
M.D., diagnosed Plaintiff with a knee strain and sent her for
physical therapy (Tr. 413). That fall, a right knee MRI
showed mild to moderate tricompartmental degenerative joint
disease (Tr. 659). Plaintiff consulted with Carrie A. Carter,
an orthopedic physician's assistant on December 12, 2014.
On examination, Plaintiff had knee tenderness, but she walked
with a normal gait and had full muscle strength, and no
swelling or instability (Tr. 751). Ms. Carter recommended
Plaintiff elevate, ice, and rest her knees, and gave her
corticosteroid injections (Tr. 751-52).
and examining medical sources provided opinions but reached
widely differing conclusions about the extent of
Plaintiff's limitations. In July 2014, Dr. Malek stated
that Plaintiff had limited use of her right arm due to
lymphedema and could not lift “at this time” (Tr.
579). He said Plaintiff could stand and walk only five to ten
minutes at a time and only two hours total in an eight-hour
day, and could not climb, crouch, kneel, or crawl. Dr. Malek
also thought Plaintiff had limitations in reaching, handling,
feeling, pushing and pulling and that she had constant pain
that interfered with the attention and concentration needed
to perform even simple tasks (Tr. 580). He concluded
Plaintiff would miss more than four days of work per month
and that she could not work “at this time” (Tr.
in July 2014, state agency physician Douglas Black, M.D.,
reviewed Plaintiff's record and assessed limitations
consistent with light work (Tr. 122-23).
October 2014, Dr. Zaydan opined Plaintiff could stand and/or
walk six to eight hours daily, but could lift and carry less
than 10 pounds with her right arm and only ...