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Jones v. Colvin

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

September 6, 2017




         This cause is before the Court regarding the appeal by Sharon Jones of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Jones's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). In rendering this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court has carefully reviewed the Administrative Record [8] regarding Jones's claims (including the administrative decision, the medical records, and a transcript of the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")), Appellant's Motion for Summary Judgment [14] and supporting Memorandum Brief [15], Defendant's Brief in Opposition to Plaintiff's Memorandum Brief [20], and Plaintiff's Reply Brief [21]. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, and the District Judge has entered an Order of Reference [10]. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73.

         For the reasons discussed in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further consideration. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [14] is granted in part and denied in part.


         Jones filed her application for SSI on March 23, 2012, and alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2002, when she was thirty-five years of age. [8] at 93-94, 148-150.[1] The Social Security Administration denied a previous request for benefits in a decision issued on April 27, 2010. Id. at 82-91.

         Jones, who completed about two years of college toward an Associate's degree, was born on October 20, 1966. Id. at 148. Although she formerly worked as a logistics driver and in a grocery store deli as a cake decorator, she has no relevant work history. Id. at 19, 36, 40, 164.

         Jones alleges that she is disabled due to high blood pressure, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), [2] arthritis, and bulging discs. Id. at 163. She was forty-seven years of age at the time of the ALJ's August 28, 2014, decision. Id. at 21. Her Initial Disability Report described her as being five feet, four inches tall and weighing two hundred forty-two pounds. Id. at 163.

         The Social Security Administration denied Jones's application initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 97, 101. Jones requested a hearing, which was held on April 17, 2014. Id. at 28. On August 28, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Jones was not disabled. Id. at 8-21. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on January 8, 2016, id. at 1, and this appeal followed.


         The Court has determined that a detailed recitation of the medical records is not necessary because the ALJ provided a summary in her decision. Nevertheless, a review of the observations and evaluations of certain examiners will aid in the consideration of this case. The records demonstrate that Jones sought regular treatment for her sarcoidosis from 2007 to 2012 from Ric Alexander, M.D. Id. at 242-264.[3] In July 2011, Dr. Alexander commented that Jones “has sarcoidosis, some mild asthma, she's overweight, [she has] a lot of pain problems but she's actually doing fairly well now.” Id. at 244. As of January 30, 2012, Dr. Alexander's impression was that Jones had “some mild exacerbation” with a recent upper respiratory infection and “some bronchitis, ” but that her “sarcoid has been fairly stable.” Id. at 242. He further commented that “[o]verall she has been feeling well.” Id. During six examinations from May 2012 to November 2013, Dr. Alexander described her sarcoidosis as “inactive” and “stable.” Id. at 462-469.

         Records indicate that Jones sought regular mental health treatment at Weems Community Mental Health Center from January 2009 to February 2014. Id. at 267-367, 473-495. Despite being diagnosed with “Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent, Severe, ” in February 2009, treatment notes indicate that her condition improved resulting from a course of consistent treatment sessions and drug therapy. Id. at 367. In September 2011, a social worker described Jones as “showing progress toward being med. compliant and basic physical needs.” Id. at 268. Throughout 2012 and 2013, her treating mental health nurse practitioner, Madelyn Parker, commented that she was “doing well” with “no depression, ” id. at 475, 478, or she was “doing pretty good, ” id. at 485, 491. During this period, Parker consistently assessed that Jones has “no positive signs of psychosis or major affective disruption, ” “no neuroleptic effects, ” and “adequate insight and alliance.” Id. at 475, 478, 480, 482, 485, 487, 489, 491, 494. In November 2013, Parker described Jones as “cheerful” and “talkative, ” and assessed Jones with a GAF of 66. Id. at 475. Jones exhibited depression and distraction in February 2014, but the nurse practitioner noted that Jones's son was in Afghanistan. Id. at 473. Nevertheless, the nurse practitioner still assessed Jones with a GAF of 66. Id.

         Records from Azhar Pasha, M.D., demonstrate that Jones sought regular back pain treatment from him from 2012 to 2014. Id. at 549-611. In May 2012, the earliest visit in the record, Dr. Pasha described Jones as “an established patient” who came in for a “scheduled follow up.” Id. at 611. From 2012 to 2014, Dr. Pasha performed a series of spinal steroid injections, nerve blocks, and ablations to assist Jones with back pain management. Throughout this time period, she underwent both lumbar and cervical spine injections, with good results, for treatment of lumbar and cervical spondylosis without myelopathy, facet syndrome of the lumbar spine, lumbosacral radiculitis, and degenerative disc disease. At various times, Dr. Pasha diagnosed Jones with chronic pain syndrome and opioid dependence unspecified. Id. at 554, 557, 562, 565, 569, 573, 578, 581, 584-585, 589, 597, 599, 605, 609, 611. The most recent record is from April 1, 2014, when Dr. Pasha performed a bilateral L3 and L4 medial branch and a bilateral L5 dorsal ramus branch diagnostic block. Id. at 549. After the successful procedure, Dr. Pasha's diagnosis was “lumbar spondylosis without myelopathy . . ., ” “degenerative lumbar/lumbosacral intervertebral . . ., ” and “facet syndrome of back.” Id. During the time period from 2012 to 2014, Dr. Pasha's records indicate that Jones's weight ranged from two hundred forty pounds to two hundred seventy-six pounds. Id. at 551, 601.

         On May 16, 2012, Dr. Pasha completed a “Medical Source Statement - Physical” that described Jones's impairments. Id. at 368. Dr. Pasha diagnosed Jones with “left leg ARA, Lumbar spondylosis, ” and stated that he did not expect Jones to improve. Id. He described Jones's symptoms as pain, fatigue, back and left leg pain. Id. He indicated that she could sit and stand/walk zero to two hours and sit three hours in an eight-hour work day. Id. at 369. He stated that she would need a job that permits shifting positions at will from sitting, standing, or walking. Id. He also stated that she could occasionally lift less than ten pounds, while she should rarely lift ten, twenty, and fifty pounds. Id. Dr. Pasha indicated that Jones could rarely twist, stoop, crouch/squat, climb ladders, and climb stairs, while noting she had no limitations with reaching, handling, or fingering. Id. He noted that her pain would constantly interfere with her attention and concentration, but that she would be capable of low stress jobs due to her severe anxiety. Id. at 370. Finally, Dr. Pasha concluded that Jones would be absent more than four days per month due to her impairments. Id.


         In her August 28, 2014, decision, the ALJ evaluated Jones's impairments using the familiar sequential evaluation process[4] and found that she has the severe impairments of obesity, lumbar and cervical spondylosis, lumbosacral radiculitis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, sarcoidosis with interstitial fibrosis, and asthma. Id. at 13. The ALJ found that Jones's hypertension and depression were non-severe. Id. The ALJ also considered the combined effect of these impairments and determined that they did not, singly or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria for any listed impairment. Id. at 15. In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ determined that her respiratory conditions did not meet those of the Listings, and she specifically considered Jones's obesity in combination with her other impairments. Id. at 15-16.

         After considering the record, the ALJ found that Jones has the residual functional capacity to “perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except with a consideration she should avoid even moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants.” Id. at 16. Considering her alleged symptoms and limitations, the ALJ found that the evidence does not support a finding that Jones's pain, including headache, her symptoms of mental disorders and side effects of medication “would impose any appreciable limitation in [her] abilities to: understand, carry out, and remember instructions; use judgment in making work-related decisions, respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers and work situations; or deal with changes in a routine work setting.” Id. at 18.

         Considering Jones's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ concluded that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Jones can perform. Id. at 19. After consulting with a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that she would be able to perform the jobs of bench assembler (unskilled and sedentary), small parts assembler (unskilled and sedentary as performed in the national economy), and café food checker (unskilled and sedentary). Id. at 20. Alternatively, the ALJ determined that if her pain limited her ability to sustain concentration and attention to the point where she was limited to performing only simple, routine tasks, Jones still would not be disabled because she could still perform the jobs identified by the ALJ. Id. Thus, the ALJ found that Jones had not been disabled since March 23, 2012, the date of the application. Id.

         IV. ...

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