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Harding v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

September 21, 2018

SANDRA M. HARDING, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Joseph M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff filed her current application[1] 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).

         Plaintiff last met the special insured status required for eligibility for DIB on December 31, 2014[2] (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. 89).

         Plaintiff 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. 350).

         In 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).

         On 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).

         On 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).

         On 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).

         On 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.

         Prior 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).

         Treating 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. 581).

         Also, in July 2014, state agency physician Douglas Black, M.D., reviewed Plaintiff's record and assessed limitations consistent with light work (Tr. 122-23).

         In 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 ...


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