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Davis v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 27, 2015



F. KEITH BALL, Magistrate Judge.

Melissa Davis brought this action to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Presently before the Court are Davis's motion for summary judgment [12] and the Commissioner's motion to affirm [15]. Having considered the memoranda of the parties and the administrative record, the undersigned recommends that Davis's motion be denied and that the Commissioner's motion be granted.

I. Procedural History

Davis was born on May 18, 1967, and was 45 years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. She has a twelfth grade education and past relevant work experience as a certified nursing assistant. She alleges disability due to low back pain and depression. Davis filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on March 12, 2010, alleging an onset date of June 20, 2009. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and she requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ issued a decision finding that Davis is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. Davis then brought this appeal pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. Evidence Before the ALJ

Davis's medical history includes a 2006 decompression and fusion performed at L5-S1 after she sustained an injury to her lower spine. Since her surgery, Davis has continued to complain of low back pain. An MRI conducted on January 30, 2009, indicated no spinal stenosis or disc herniation at L5-S1. R. 336.[1] There was mild facet arthrosis and minimal disc bulging at L3-4 and L4-5 but no evidence of spinal stenosis at these levels. Id. Thereafter, she began treatment at the UMC pain clinic, where Dr. Ike Eriator treated her with a nerve root block in March of 2009 and a facet block in May of 2010. R. 326-27, 333-34. Davis reported only brief relief from these injections. A CT scan performed in September of 2009 indicated a solid fusion, and having reviewed the CT scan, Dr. Ashraf Ragab stated that he did "not see any problem with her spine that could explain her pain." R. 311. Dr. Eriator administered an epidural steroid injection in August of 2011, and in September of 2011, he performed a neuroplasty. R. 431-32, 424-25. In 2012, Davis was diagnosed with bilateral patellofemoral pain syndrome and bursitis, for which she was treated with injections and physical therapy. R. 422-23.

The medical record indicates a history of depression, for which Davis has been treated with Effexor. In June of 2009, she presented at Weems with complaints that her medication was no longer effective. R. 365-66. She also reported thoughts of "not wanting to be here." Id. Weems referred her to St. Dominic for inpatient treatment. Upon admission at St. Dominic, she reported suicidal ideations, severe irritability, and visual hallucinations. R. 278. Mental status exam revealed a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) of 26. R. 279. She was treated with an increased dosage of Effexor and was released after a week. Discharge diagnosis was major depressive disorder, recurrent, and a GAF of 55. R. 277.

Davis continued to have difficulties with depression after her discharge, and two weeks later she was taken to the emergency room after she ingested 18 Lortabs and 17 Flexeril tablets in a suicide attempt. R. 296. She was treated with a gastric lavage and released. R. 299. Thereafter she was treated regularly and frequently at Weems, where Seroquel was prescribed in addition to Effexor. By September of 2009, she had made some improvement on Effexor and Seroquel. R. 349. Notes thereafter indicate that she was making progress. On March 22, 2010, she was noted to be somewhat improved, although her crying spells were continuing, and she was experiencing fewer auditory hallucinations and no suicidal ideations. R. 346. On mental status exam she was neat, calm, and oriented. Id. Affect was restricted, memory was intact, insight fair, judgment fair, and intelligence average. Id. She was instructed to continue on Effexor and Seroquel. Id. Her last documented visit to Weems was on May 21, 2010. At this visit, Davis reported that her mood had been relatively euthymic and stable and that she was sleeping well. R. 343-44. She was alert, calm, cooperative, and fully oriented, and she had had no recent delusions, hallucinations, or suicidal thoughts. Id. Mental status exam revealed that motor activity was slightly decreased, affect was restricted, and thought process was coherent. Id. She was to continue on Effexor and Seroquel and be seen monthly for psychotherapy. Id.

Linda Youngblood was Davis's case manager at Weems. On April 6, 2010, Youngbood completed a mental health questionnaire. Youngblood stated that Davis was being treated with Effexor and Seroquel and that her compliance with treatment was good. R. 316. She rated as "fair" Davis's ability to use judgment and as "poor" her ability to deal with the public, function independently, and maintain attention and concentration. R. 317. Youngblood rated as "unknown" Davis's ability to follow work rules, relate to coworkers, interact with supervisors, and deal with work stresses. Id. In support of these opinions, she stated that Davis has anxiety in public, poor stress management skills, poor concentration and attention, and problems staying on task. Id. On the issue of job instructions, Youngblood indicated that Davis's ability to understand, remember, and carry out job instructions, even simple ones, is poor. Id. In support of this opinion, she cited Davis's poor concentration and memory and that she had experienced suicidal ideations in the past. Id. Finally, Youngblood opined that Davis has a fair ability to maintain personal appearance and a poor ability to behave in an emotionally stable manner, relate predictably in social situations, and demonstrate reliability. Id. In support of these opinions, Youngblood stated that Davis was easily upset, had difficulties coping with change, had poor stress management skills, and that Davis had "tried to comitt [sic] suicide several times" when things did not turn out as she expected. Id.

Jan Boggs, Ph.D., performed a consultative mental status examination on Davis on May 20, 2010. At the exam, Davis reported problems from pain and depression. R. 339. She rated her pain at 8.5 out of 10 on a bad day and 7 on the day of the exam. Id. Davis stated that she had not driven in a year because of pain. R. 340. She stated that she experienced crying spells two to three times a day and reported seeing shadows and hearing her name. Id. Davis was tearful at the exam and indicated that she was distraught over her inability to do things for herself and her children. Id. She claimed that she had experienced suicidal thoughts as recently as two weeks earlier and had tried to cut herself on one occasion. Id. Examination revealed her to be of average intelligence with fair remote recall. Id. Dr. Boggs observed that Davis proceeded slowly during the exam, making some tasks more difficult. Id. She had difficulty with grocery store arithmetic. Id. Dr. Boggs stated that some of Davis's difficulties during the exam may have been the result of distraction due to pain. R. 340-41. Dr. Boggs's impression was depressive disorder, NOS, and dysthymia. R. 341. Dr. Boggs stated that Davis would be able to handle funds. Id. He described Davis as depressed and in pain, with any improvement in her mental status being largely dependent upon resolution of her back pain. Id.

Dr. Glenda Scallorn, a non-examining consultant, completed a psychiatric review technique form on June 15, 2010. Dr. Scallorn opined that Davis had moderate limitations in daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence, or pace, and that she had had no episodes of decompensation (the "B" criteria). R. 390. Dr. Scallorn also completed an assessment form of Davis's mental RFC, in which she stated that Davis could perform routine repetitive tasks for two-hour periods of time in an eight-hour day, that she was capable of appropriate interactions with coworkers and supervisors, and would be able to adapt to routine work changes. R. 396. She further opined that Davis could complete a normal work week without excessive interference from psychologicallybased symptoms. Id.

At the hearing, Davis testified as follows. She lives with her children and grandchildren. R. 34. She suffers from back pain approximately 75 percent of the time and rates her pain at a level of seven. R. 39. Pain medication will reduce her pain to about a six, but this effect lasts only for an hour or an hour and a half. R. 39-40. On a typical day, Davis gets up about eight or nine in the morning. R. 44. She tries to watch television some but has trouble focusing because of her pain. R. 44-45. She does not go out to shop and engages in no social activities. R. 38, 45. Davis performs no household chores and needs assistance to put her shoes on and to get in and out of the bathtub. R. 47, 40. She also suffers from pain in both knees and in her right hip. R. 49. She suffers from depression and memory problems, and she experiences crying spells at times. R. 38-39. At the time of the hearing, she had not been seen at Weems recently and was on no psychotropic medication. R. 48.

A vocational expert (VE), Debbie Ann Baker-Dean, testified at the hearing. The ALJ posed the following hypothetical to the VE: A younger individual with a high school education and past work experience as a nursing assistant, who can perform light work but would need the option of sitting briefly (no more than five minutes) after standing or walking for 30 minutes, would need to stand and move about briefly after sitting for thirty minutes, can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can only occasionally climb stairs or ramps, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl, and is limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks. R. 53. The VE testified that such an individual could not perform the job of nursing assistant but could perform the alternative jobs of silverware wrapper, mail sorter, and textile sorter, and that these jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 53-54. The ALJ posed a second hypothetical, adding that the individual could have only occasional interaction with the public and with co-workers. R. 54. The VE responded that this individual could perform only the job of textile sorter. Id. In a third hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to ...

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