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Mary Clark v. Michael J. Astrue

February 25, 2011

MARY CLARK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Mary Clark, the plaintiff in this civil lawsuit, seeks a judgment reversing the defendant Social Security Administration's (the "Administration") denial of her application for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 4. Currently before the Court is the plaintiff's motion for a judgment of reversal or remand and the defendant's motion for a judgment of affirmance, which were filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006). After careful review of the plaintiff's complaint, the administrative record, the parties' motions, and all memoranda of law and exhibits related to those motions,*fn1 the Court concludes for the reasons below that it must grant the defendant's motion for affirmance and deny the plaintiff's motion for reversal.

I. BACKGROUND

Except where otherwise noted, the following facts are part of the administrative record submitted to the Court. The plaintiff is a former "customer service representative for a telephone company . . . and . . . hair dresser" who, in 1992, "was diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel syndrome." Administrative Record ("A.R.") at 16. She sought treatment for her ailment and was given cortisone injections, which helped improve her condition. Id. Approximately ten years later, the plaintiff met with Garcia DeSousa, a neurologist, regarding "numbness and pain in the fingers [of] both hands[,] with the right hand being worse than the left hand." Id. Dr. DeSousa preformed "EMG and nerve conduction studies of [the plaintiff's] upper extremities,"*fn2 which "revealed moderately advanced carpal tunnel syndrome." Id. Although the plaintiff was "treated with anti-inflammatory medication, splinting[,] and injections," she did not experience any "significant improvement in her condition." Id.

On March 25, 2002, the plaintiff "underwent [a] right carpal tunnel release." Id. Despite this surgical procedure, as well as subsequent medication and therapy, the plaintiff continued to experience pain in her right hand. Id. The plaintiff then "underwent EMG and nerve conduction studies of her right upper extremity" on July 25, 2002, which revealed "marked improvement in the distal latencies for the median curve." Id. Dr. DeSousa concluded from these studies that "there was no strong indication to suggest residual carpal tunnel syndrome or recurrent carpal tunnel syndromes," but he recommended that the plaintiff undergo "a follow[-]up study . . . should her symptoms persist." Id. There is no evidence, however, that the plaintiff returned to Dr. DeSousa "with a worsening of her symptoms." Id.

On April 24, 2003, the plaintiff visited Frederic Guerrier, M.D., at the Roser Park Medical Center, who she has seen "on an[d] off since June 25, 1998[,] for yearly checkups and for her complaints of hand pain, itchy skin[,] and hypertension." Id. at 16-17. On this particular visit, the plaintiff visited Dr. Guerrier regarding "pain in her joints" and to have "her medication refilled." Id. at 16. Dr. Guerrier referred the plaintiff for additional laboratory tests, which "revealed [an] elevated glucose . . . and cholesterol reading." Id. at 17. Then, on June 26, 2003, the plaintiff "reported to Dr. Guerrier" that she had experienced a fall "at work and was having right[-]sided pain in her chest, arm, shoulder, back[,] and hip." Id. The plaintiff also informed Dr. Guerrier "that she sought help at Johnnie Ruth Clark Clinic," and that the clinician at that facility had "restricted her from work" for approximately one week. Id. A physical examination was subsequently conducted on the plaintiff (presumably by Dr. Guerrier), which revealed "no acute distress." Id.

The plaintiff did not return to the Roser Park Medical Center for further examination by Dr. Gurrier until October 6, 2003, when she claimed to have been experiencing body pain as a result of another fall two weeks prior to the visit. Id. Although she received "a cortisone shot in her shoulder" which relieved some of the pain, the plaintiff indicated to Dr. Guerrier that the problem was "not totally resolved." Id. Furthermore, she "reported having neck spasms." Id. An examination of the plaintiff revealed "tenderness to palpation in her right shoulder." Id.

As alluded to above, the plaintiff had been diagnosed with having elevated blood pressure. Id. On May 18, 2003, the plaintiff visited the St. Petersburg Free Clinic (the "Free Clinic") "for [a] blood pressure check and medication refills." Id. "Her blood pressure was noted to be 150/98 in the left arm and 130/80 in the right arm."*fn3 Id. The plaintiff returned to the clinic on May 22, 2003, and her blood pressure "was noted to be quite elevated [at] 180/100." Id. A few weeks later, on June 19, 2003, her blood pressure was registered at 110/64. Id. Then, "[o]n September 9, 2003, her blood pressure was 130/80." Id. As treatment for her hypertension, the plaintiff was prescribed HCTZ, Lipitor, Bextra, and Zestril. Id.

The plaintiff suffered from yet another ailment on March 18, 2004, when she visited a hospital emergency room "after injuring her left finger." Id. The plaintiff underwent an x-ray examination, which revealed "an acute fracture" on her left hand. Id. The finger was placed on a splint, "and she was given a prescription for anti-inflammatory medication and pain medicine." Id.

The next day, the plaintiff returned to the Free Clinic to seek treatment for her various medical conditions. Id. During that visit, the plaintiff's blood pressure was measured at 120/70, and she was advised not to go to work until April 12, 2004. Id. The plaintiff then returned to the Free Clinic on March 30, 2004, where "she reported [that] she was doing well." Id. "She was advised to begin active exercise and warm [water] soaks for her fractured finger for restoration of motion." Id. The plaintiff was again examined on April 13, 2004, and while the condition of her finger was improving, she was "advised to continue with active exercise of the PIP joint." Id. Then, on June 10, 2004, an x-ray examination of the claimant's left shoulder "showed some degenerative osteoarthritis in the acromioclavicular joint and glenohumeral area as well as some mild impingement." Id. She next returned to the Free Clinic on September 25, 2004, and "reported [having] pain in both wrists." Id. She did report, however, that "she was doing fairly well on her medication," but that some of the medication "made her sleepy." Id.

On July 14, 2005, the plaintiff visited the Free Clinic and reported having "pain in both hands." Id. at 18. She again "reported pain in both hands and wrists" during a visit several weeks later on August 9, 2005, but an examination conducted at that time revealed "no clinical signs of carpal tunnel syndrome in the claimant's hands[ or ] wrists," although "[s]he did have tenderness of the right lateral epicondyle." Id. The plaintiff was then referred "for a course of physical therapy." Id. The plaintiff made another visit to the clinic on August 17, 2005, when she "was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus" and "was noted to be overweight." Id. She was given, inter alia, "class information re[garding] diet and cooking." Id.

While the plaintiff was seeking medical treatment for her various ailments, she filed an application with the Administration on April 27, 2004, for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits that she claimed she was entitled to receive as of March 15, 2004. Id. at 13. In her application, the plaintiff alleged that she had been "unable to work due to carpal tunnel syndrome and [a] broken little finger on the left [hand]." Id. at 16. As part of the agency's assessment of her claims, the plaintiff "was examined by Christopher M. Davey, M.D., on November 12, 2004." Id. at 18. Dr. Davey concluded that while the plaintiff was approximately seventy "pounds overweight for" someone of "her height," the plaintiff was not suffering from any "acute distress." Id. Furthermore, he found that "[a]ll" of the plaintiff's "joints were normal and had full range of motion." Id. In other words, he found that "[t]here were no [signs of] deformity, heat, redness, tenderness, swelling[,] or signs of inflammation." Id. The examination also revealed that the plaintiff "had full range of motion of her spine and was able to bend over easily," and that she was able to straighten and raise her leg normally. Id.

As for her left wrist, which had previously caused her problems, Dr. Davey observed that "[h]er grip was 5/5, strong and equal bilaterally," and that "she easily handled the pages of a magazine." Id. Indeed, the examination showed that her "[m]otor strength was 5/5 in all four extremities," and that "[h]er gait was also normal." Id.

The Administration initially denied her claim on August 11, 2004, id. at 13, as well as her request for reconsideration on November 24, 2004, id. at 32-39. The plaintiff sought a hearing for review of her application, which was granted and held on November 29, 2006. Pl.'s Mem. at 2. At the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") heard testimony from the plaintiff, and exhibits previously identified during the initial review were received into evidence and made part of the administrative record. A.R. at 227--40. In her testimony, the plaintiff indicated that she had high blood pressure, a cholesterol problem, and type-II diabetes. Id. at 232. In describing her symptoms, the plaintiff testified that her "right hand [wa]s numb and [she] ha[d] a lot of swelling, inflammation," and that she experienced shooting pain "sometimes from [her] elbow all the way down." Id. at 234. The plaintiff said that she experienced shooting pains and numbness in her left hand. Id. at 235. The plaintiff also said that her carpal tunnel syndrome caused her pain in "anything that [she] d[id]" and that she could not complete tasks without dropping things. Id. at 236. To address her pain, the plaintiff testified that she had been going to the Free Clinic to receive ibuprofen and other pain relievers, which "sometimes . . . relieve[d] it a little, but not completely." Id. at 237. ...


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