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Johnson v. Astrue

October 23, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Plaintiff, Mary L. Johnson("Johnson") filed this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("SSA"), codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("Disability"), and Supplemental Security Insurance ("SSI"). On January 28, 2008, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and on February 18, 2008, plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings.

For the reasons that follow, I find that substantial evidence supports the decision of the ALJ. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.


Plaintiff is a 54 year old woman with a high school education. (Tr. 159) She alleges that she has been disabled since August 5, 2003 because of back pain, knee pain, fibromyalgia and lupus. On September 9, 2004, Johnson filed an application for Disability and SSI. (Tr. 52-54) Her application was denied initially on December 23, 2004. (Tr. 48-50) Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on August 8, 2006 at which plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ( ALJ ) and was represented by counsel. (Tr. 331-355) By decision dated September 18, 2006, the ALJ found Johnson was not disabled within the meaning of the SSA. (Tr. 17-29) Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. The decision of the ALJ became final when the Appeals Council denied review on April 9, 2007.(Tr. 4-6) Plaintiff commenced this action on May 17, 2007 claiming that she was disabled because of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, myofascial pain, obesity, headaches, and adjustment disorder.

A. Medical Background

In July, of 1998, Johnson began experiencing chills, headaches, and fatigue. (Tr. 344) Dr. Vinay Reddy, a Rheumatologist, diagnosed plaintiff with fibromyalgia towards the end of 1998. (Tr. 345) Plaintiff sustained a back injury on February 21, 2003 while working for General Mills. She lifted a pallet and felt a pull in her lower back. She was diagnosed with lumbar strain on March 11, 2003. (Tr. 114) Johnson continued to work until August, 2003 when she found she was too fatigued to continue. (Tr. 347) Johnson was examined by Dr. Reddy on April 1, 2003. (Tr. 111) Plaintiff's myofascial pain was improved but she had pulled her back. Dr. Reddy refilled plaintiff's prescription for Plaquenil. An MRI conducted on May 29, 2003 found a small left paracentral disc herniation slightly indenting the thecal sac at L2-3. (Tr. 222)

Plaintiff sought treatment with Dr. Frank Colarusso, an orthopaedic doctor, on August 13, 2003. (Tr. 142) Dr. Colarusso noted plaintiff's history of Fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Johnson presented with a normal physical examination but she experienced back pain with slump and straight leg raises. (Tr. 142) Dr. Colarusso noted a lumbar spine rotational dysfunction at the L4-5 level and a right on right sacral torsional dysfunction. Dr. Colarusso noted that the MRI imaging showed L2-3 left parcentral disc herniation with slight indentation of the thecal sac. He treated plaintiff with manual medicine treatments and referred plaintiff for an epidural steroid injection. (Tr. 143) Dr. Colarusso opined that plaintiff was temporarily totally disabled. He continued to treat plaintiff on a monthly basis. (Tr. 118-142) In November, 2003, the epidural injections were discontinued as they were apparently not effective. (Tr. 135)

In a letter dated May 26, 2004, Dr. Colarusso summarized Johnson's care since he was moving out of state and was referring her care back to her primary care physician, Dr. Thomas Scanlon. (Tr. 116-117) Dr. Colarusso noted that plaintiff found some relief with osteopathic manual medicine treatments, he recommended plaintiff be referred to a physiatrist or pain management specialist. He found plaintiff to be temporarily totally disabled and limited in performing physical demanding work. He further limited her to not do prolonged repetitive or heavy lifting, carrying, bending, twisting, standing, walking with more than ten pounds or more than one half hour at a time. (Tr. 117)

On October 9, 2003, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Kyu Ha Lee for an independent medical examination. (Tr. 114) Dr. Lee found plaintiff's range of motion to be within normal limits and found no sensory or motor abnormalities in the lower extremities. Dr. Lee concluded that plaintiff suffered a strain or sprain of the low back and has left HNP at L2-3 pursuant to the MRI conducted on April 25, 2003. However, Dr. Lee did not believe there was any neurological deficit in the lower extremities. Noting that plaintiff did not believe epidural steroid injections helped her pain, Dr. Lee did not recommend continuing the injections. (Tr. 115) Instead, he opined that her condition would improve with weight loss and physical therapy and found Johnson to have a temporary mild partial disability. (Tr. 115) He found that she could work with the restriction of no lifting over 20 pounds for the next eight weeks and thereafter, she could work without restriction. (Tr. 115)

On November 6, 2003, Dr. Danilo Saldaña, a rheumatologist, took over treatment of plaintiff from Dr. Reddy. (Tr. 167) He noted plaintiff's medical history included fibromyalgia, herniated disc and undifferentiated connective tissue disease. (Tr. 167)

Dr. Caldaña found plaintiff to have undifferentiated connective tissue disease, polyarthralgia, low back pain and fatigue. He recommended continuation of Plaquenil and Vioxx. (Tr. 168) Follow up appointments in November, 2003 and January, 2004 confirmed the diagnosis of undifferentiated connective tissue disease, low back pain and fatigue with continued prescriptions for Vioxx and Plaquenil. (Tr. 163-166)

Dr. Saldaña continued to treat Johnson throughout 2004, adjusting her medications and starting plaintiff on Mobic. (Tr. 252-258) Images taken of Johnson's left and right knees on January 24, 2004 showed early osteoarthritis of the knees, normal appearance on AP standing view. (Tr. 169)

Johnson sought treatment at Gosy and Associates, Pain Treatment Center on June 14, 2004 with the complaint that she had fibromyalgia. (Tr. 155) Plaintiff claimed that her symptoms had begun five years earlier during a time of stress. She experienced pain in the left flank region and spread to the spinal area, shoulders and thighs. Dr. Eugene Gosy diagnosed plaintiff with diffuse pain due to fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, lumbar area discomfort and ...

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