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PRENTICE v. APFEL

July 1, 1998

SHEILA PRENTICE, Plaintiff, against KENNETH APFEL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Peter K. Leisure, U.S.D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEISURE

OPINION AND ORDER

LEISURE, District Judge :

 Plaintiff Sheila Prentice brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her applications for social security disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Now before this Court are plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and defendant's cross-motion for the same. For the reasons discussed below, each motion is granted in part and denied in part.

 BACKGROUND

 I. Prior Proceedings

 Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI on August 9, 1994. These applications were denied by the Social Security Administration (the "Administration") on October 5, 1994. Plaintiff requested reconsideration on October 9, 1994, and reconsideration was denied on February 16, 1995.

 On April 30, 1995, plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held on March 7, 1996, before the Honorable Mark Hecht. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing pro se and testified about her alleged disability. In a decision dated April 4, 1996, Judge Hecht found that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) *fn1" and rejected her applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI. On April 17, 1996, plaintiff requested review of this decision by the Appeals Council; on October 29, 1996, her request was denied. Plaintiff now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

 II. Facts

 Plaintiff has ten years of formal schooling and has earned her General Equivalency Degree. In November of 1993, she was involved in a motor vehicle accident that allegedly exacerbated a pre-existing condition of neck and shoulder pain and rendered her unable to work. Until that time, plaintiff had worked in a variety of jobs, including service as a meat cutter, janitress, house cleaner, and fast-food cook.

 At the hearing before Judge Hecht, plaintiff testified that she experiences headaches and shoulder and neck pain on a daily basis. She claimed that the pain is usually dull and constant, but that it sharpens when she uses her hands and arms to lift things. See Transcript of Administrative Hearing, March 7, 1996, at 11 (hereinafter cited as "Tr. at "). Plaintiff also stated that she can sit comfortably for up to two hours, that she can stand for approximately one and a half hours, that she cannot walk "very far", and that she cannot lift "very much". Tr. at 11, 12. Plaintiff further testified that, due to her pain, she could not perform any of her past relevant work, but that she believed she could perform "light work" if she were able to find it. Id. at 13.

 Following the motor vehicle accident, plaintiff was admitted overnight to a Birmingham, Alabama hospital. She was released the next morning to seek treatment from her private doctor. On February 9, 1994, plaintiff was examined by Dr. W.S. Fisher at the Neurosurgery Clinic of the University of Alabama Medical School. Plaintiff complained of pain in the right side of her neck and of "shock-like feelings going down her right arm and fingers." Administrative Record at 12 (hereinafter cited as "R. at "). Dr. Fisher found that plaintiff's reflexes, motor strength, and sensory perception all were within normal limits. He also found that a Magnetic Resonance Imaging ("MRI") exam showed no significant cervical stenosis. *fn2"

 On March 9, 1994, following continued complaints of pain, plaintiff again was examined by Dr. Fisher. Dr. Fisher found no reason to suggest surgery and referred plaintiff to the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic for examination by Dr. Galen Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell reviewed an MRI that showed mild stenosis and some degenerative change, but revealed no significant cord encroachment. *fn3" He found no evidence to suggest a peripheral nerve encroachment *fn4" or a central nerve process. *fn5" Further testing showed no evidence of denervation *fn6" to suggest a peripheral nerve or nerve root process *fn7" Dr. Mitchell diagnosed plaintiff's condition as Fibromyalgia Rheumatica *fn8" , but noted that the severity of her discomfort, coupled with her equivocal reflex-test results, suggested the possibility of a central nervous system process. See R. at 118.

 At the time of Dr. Mitchell's examination, plaintiff was taking Isoptin, indicated for treatment of hypertension *fn9" , and Flexeril, indicated for relief of musculoskeletal pain. In addition to these medications, Dr. Mitchell prescribed Elavil, an antidepressant indicated for relief of endogonous depression *fn10" and pain associated with fibromyalgia.

 On April 27, 1994, plaintiff returned to Dr. Fisher for a follow-up examination. Dr. Fisher was reluctant to offer surgical cervical decompression, instead referring plaintiff to the Pain Clinic for management of her pain.

 On September 20, 1994, at the Administration's request, plaintiff underwent a consultative examination by Dr. Rebecca Turner. Despite finding some restrictions in plaintiff's neck and spine flexibility, Dr. Turner concluded that plaintiff's limitations with respect to normal working activities ...


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