United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHARLETHA B. MIDDLETON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
G. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
B. Middleton (“plaintiff”) challenges the
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“SSA”) to deny her application for period of
disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. This matter
is before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of
Reversal and the SSA's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance.
For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the former
and grants the latter.
submitted an application for DIB on January 11, 2013. (A.R.
168-74.) At that time, she was 36 years of age.
(A.R. 70.) According to plaintiff, she became disabled on May
3, 2012, (A.R.168), because of the condition of her neck,
shoulder, arm, hand and leg, and the resulting pain she
experiences, (A.R. 204). SSA denied her application on March
29, 2013. (A.R. 93-96). Plaintiff sought reconsideration of
the decision, (A.R. 97), without success, as the SSA found
“that the previous determination . . . was proper under
the law, ” (A.R. 98). On August 5, 2013, plaintiff
requested, (A.R. 107-08), and SSA scheduled, (A.R. 133-37), a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). The hearing took place on May 13, 2015.
Plaintiff, who then was represented by counsel, testified at
the hearing, as did an impartial vocational expert. (A.R.
40-69). The record remained open for 14 days after the
hearing in order that plaintiff submit updated treatment
records; plaintiff filed none. (A.R. 22).
issued his decision on June 25, 2015 that plaintiff is not
disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to period of
disability or disability insurance benefits. (A.R. 33). On
July 5, 2015, plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's
decision. (A.R. 14-15). The Appeals Council denied the
request on July 16, 2016. (A.R. 1-6).
to plaintiff, she has “endured [her] condition since
2005.” (Mot. for J. of Reversal at 1; A.R. 360). She
reported that she has severe pain in her back, neck, right
arm and right hand. (A.R. 212). Plaintiff underwent magnetic
resonance imaging (“MRI”) of the right shoulder
in May 2012. (A.R. 441). The test revealed “[m]ild AC
joint arthropathy, ” but “no significant tear of
the rotator cuff or labrum, ” (A.R. 441), and was
“[o]therwise [a] negative study.” (A.R. 441;
see A.R. 260). X-rays of plaintiff's cervical
spine in May 2012 showed “[m]ild degenerative
spondylosis and foraminal stenosis.” (A.R. 440). An MRI
of plaintiff's cervical spine in June 2012 showed
“[d]egenerative disk spondylitic change with multilevel
neural foraminal encroachment, ” but “no spinal
stenosis or cord compression.” (A.R. 369; see
and August 2012, plaintiff attended four sessions with a
physical therapist. (A.R. 265). Eight sessions had been
scheduled, yet plaintiff discharged herself and chose not to
return after a fourth visit. (A.R. 264).
presented to Avery Healthcare Associates, PC, on January 30,
2013, complaining of neck, shoulder and back discomfort, and
requested a referral for consultation with an orthopedic
specialist. (A.R. 360). On March 13, 2013, Dr. Elliott
Aleskow conducted a disability evaluation. (A.R. 306-14).
Plaintiff complained of “pain radiat[ing] to the middle
of her back and both shoulders, ” and stated she had
not sustained a neck injury at any time. (A.R. 306). She
required no assistive device; she could sit and stand 15-30
minutes; she could walk 4-5 blocks; she could travel without
difficulty. (A.R. 306). In addition, plaintiff “was
able to walk on heels and toes, squat rise from a squatting
position and tandem walk without difficulty.” (A.R.
307). The strength of her hand grip was normal bilaterally,
and she “was able to do fine-motor skills without
significant difficulty.” (A.R. 307). According to Dr.
Aleskow, plaintiff “had full range of motion of all
extremities with the exception of the cervical spine region,
” and aside from this limited range of motion,
plaintiff “appear[ed] to be stable medically” and
without “any obvious neurological deficit[.]”
consulted with Dr. Damon Robinson, a pain management
specialist, (A.R. 50), on June 7, 2013, complaining of
“continuous, throbbing, aching, shooting and
severe” pain that had begun seven years previously and
gradually progressed. (A.R. 436). After conducting a physical
examination, Dr. Robinson's “primary diagnosis
[was] cervical radiculopathy secondary cervical disc
displacement.” (A.R. 437). Dr. Robinson conducted
cervical examinations on July 5, 2013 (A.R. 433-34), July 26,
2013 (A.R. 430-31), September 25, 2013 (A.R. 421-22), October
25, 2013 (A.R. 418-19), November 11, 2013 (A.R. 415-16),
November 27, 2013 (A.R. 411-12), May 5, 2014 (A.R. 404-05),
September 9, 2014 (A.R. 401), October 7, 2014 (A.R. 397),
November 21, 2014 (A.R. 392), and March 17, 2015 (A.R. 371).
He reported nearly identical negative results from these
examinations. Dr. Robinson conducted lumbar examinations on
September 13, 2013 (A.R. 427), March 12, 2014 (A.R. 408-09),
November 21, 2014 (A.R. 393), and March 17, 2015 (A.R. 371),
and one thoracic examination on November 21, 2014, with
negative results. (A.R. 393).
Robinson referred plaintiff to physical therapy on November
27, 2013. (A.R. 321). Plaintiff was considered “an
excellent candidate for physical therapy intervention to
decrease the pain in the arm and in the neck, teach proper
posture and body mechanics, and overall therapeutic exercises
to promote muscle strength and restore over all
function.” (A.R. 324). On February 19, 2014, plaintiff
reported that her “pain condition [was] unchanged,
” (A.R. 342), and significant improvement with her
range of motion and strength in her neck and shoulder, (A.R.
344). Her last appointment was February 25, 2014. (A.R. 348).
had an MRI of her cervical spine on November 7, 2015, (A.R.
10), which revealed “[m]ultilevel degenerative changes
with severe left and moderate right neural foraminal
narrowing at ¶ 4-C5, moderate to severe right and
moderate left neural foraminal narrowing at ¶ 5-C6, and
moderate left neural foraminal narrowing at ¶ 6-C7,
” (A.R. 11).
April 6, 2016, plaintiff underwent an MRI of her lumbar
spine, which revealed:
Specific disc disease is as follows:
L4-L5: There is a mild diffuse disc bulge and a
moderate-sized central annular fissure. There is no
significant spinal canal or neural foraminal narrowing.
L5-S1: There is a mild diffuse disc bulge and a
moderate-sized central annular fissure that contacts the
descending S1 nerve roots.
There is mild bilateral facet arthropathy resulting in mild
bilateral neural foraminal narrowing. There is no significant
spinal canal narrowing.
The remainder of the vertebral levels are unremarkable with
no evidence of significant spinal canal or neural foraminal
Mild diffuse disc bulges and moderate central annular
fissures at ¶ 4-L5 and L5-S1 with abutment of the