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Hallinan v. Astrue

March 27, 2008

TERREY S. HALLINAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,*FN1 COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 30, 2003, alleging that she became disabled on August 13, 2002. See Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") at 47-50. Plaintiff's application was initially denied. See id. at 33-36. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on September 16, 2004. See id. at 37-38. On October 28, 2004, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. See id. at 14-25. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 8, 2005. See id. at 5-7.

On May 12, 2005, Plaintiff commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review that final decision. In support of her argument that the Court should reverse Defendant's decision and award her benefits, Plaintiff asserts that (1) the ALJ failed to fully develop the record in this case and that (2) the ALJ failed to consider the side effects of Plaintiff's medications on her ability to do work. See Plaintiff's Brief at 5-10. On the other hand, Defendant contends that there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision and that, therefore, the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff was forty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing in 2004. See Tr. at 18. She completed high school and vocational training as a teacher's assistant. See id. at 239. She has past relevant work experience as a classroom aide, cashier, and bus aide. See id. at 241-43. Plaintiff alleges disability due to neck pain, left shoulder pain, gastrointenstinal reflux disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, anemia, and depression. See id. at 244.

B. Medical Evidence in the Record

1. Treating and Examining Physicians -- Physical

The record contains treatment notes from Dr. Stephen Robinson at University Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, P.C., for the time period from May 1997 through August 1998. See Tr. at 197-203. During that time, Plaintiff complained about chronic neck pain. See id. Examinations found tenderness to palpation of the cervical spine, with some range of motion limitations of the neck. See id. at 200-03. X-rays of the cervical spine were within normal limits. See id. at 203. An MRI showed small central disc herniations at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels. See id. at 202.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Jonathan Braman, a neurologist, on March 13, 2002. See Tr. at 122-26. He noted that Plaintiff had undergone right carpal tunnel release surgery with good results. See id. at 122. Upon physical examination, Plaintiff had 5/5 muscle strength, but some give-way type of weakness of left elbow extension compared to the right. See id. Her gait was normal, reflexes and sensory perception were normal, and nerve studies were normal. See id. at 123. Dr. Braman noted an impression of moderate, chronic, and ongoing left C7 cervical radiculopathy. See id.

An MRI of Plaintiff's cervical spine was performed on May 20, 2002. See id. at 128. The results showed a paracentral disc herniation at the C6-7 level extending to the neural foramen. See id. On July 25, 2002, Dr. David Kolva, a neurologist, recommended a discectomy to treat Plaintiff's spinal condition. See id. at 138. On August 13, 2002, Dr. Jeffrey Winfield performed corpectomy spinal surgery to treat Plaintiff's loss of cervical lordosis, kyphosis, ventral spinal cord compression, and free fragment discs at the C6-C7 level which were compressing the spinal cord and obliterating the neural foramen. See id. at 129. On September 11, 2002, Plaintiff followed up with Dr. David Kolva, who noted that she had "done extremely well in the interim since her surgery," with "no pain whatsoever [and] preoperative numbness and tingling . . . completely resolved." See id. at 133. Plaintiff had a good range of motion ("ROM") in the neck, normal sensorimotor examination of the upper and lower extremities, and normal reflexes. See id. She was referred to physical therapy for strengthening of the neck and extremities. See id.

Dr. Kalyani Ganesh performed a physical consultative examination on November 11, 2003. See id. at 159-62. At the examination, Plaintiff appeared in no acute distress, demonstrated a normal gait, could heel/toe walk and squat, and was able to change, get on and off the examination table, and rise from a chair without assistance. See id. at 160. She reported that her daily activities included cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry, all with help and resting, that she could shower three times a week and dress daily, and watch television. See id. Upon physical examination, she had intact hand and finger dexterity, full flexion of the cervical spine with no pain or spasm, full ROM of the extremities with full strength, full flexion of the thoracic and lumbar spine, and a negative straight leg raising ("SLR") test. See id. at 161. Dr. Ganesh noted no limitation in sitting, standing, walking, climbing, bending, or squatting, and mild limitation in lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. See id.

Dr. Michael Stephens completed a medical report on January 18, 2005. See id. at 230-33. He reported that he treated Plaintiff from approximately June of 2004 through January of 2005. See id. at 230. Dr. Stephens opined that Plaintiff had an unlimited ability to interact with supervisors, function independently, and maintain attention and concentration; a good ability to follow work rules, relate to co-workers, and deal with the public, and a fair ability to deal with work stress. See id. at 231. He found that she had no limitations in following complex or detailed instructions and that ...


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