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Baptiste v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 13, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Shurbelle John Baptiste, Gaithersburg, Maryland, Pro Se Plaintiff.

Charles M. Oberly, III, Esquire, United States Attorney and Patricia A. Stewart, Esquire, Special Assistant United States Attorney, of the Office of the United States Attorney, Wilmington, Delaware.

Of Counsel: Nora Koch, Esquire, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III and Jillian Quick, Esquire, Assistant Regional Counsel, of the Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.


Plaintiff Shurbelle John Baptiste ("Baptiste" or "Plaintiff'), who appears pro se, appeals from a decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant"), denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"), under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1] Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Baptiste and the Commissioner.[2] (D.I. 18, 19) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion and will grant Defendant's motion.


A. Procedural History

On May 18, 2010, Baptiste protectively filed an application for DIB and, on May 26, 2010, protectively filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning January 31, 2009, due to bursitis, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, arthritis, abdominal hernia due to gastric bypass complications, sun UVA and UVB ray allergies, anxiety, and pelvic pubic dysfunction. The claims were denied on July 26, 2010 and, upon reconsideration, on October 8, 2010. Plaintiff filed a request for hearing on December 8, 2010. On August 30 2011, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who issued a decision finding that Baptiste was not disabled. Plaintiff filed a request for review by the Appeals Council which was denied on October 18, 2012 and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (D.I. 11 ("Tr.") at 1-6)

On December 10, 2012, Baptiste filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. (D.I. 2) Baptiste moved for summary judgment on July 18, 2014 (D.I. 18), and the Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on August 21, 2014 (D.I. 19).

B. Medical and Mental Health Evidence

In 2003, Plaintiff underwent gastric bypass surgery. (Tr. at 266) She was diagnosed as morbidly obese on April 8, 2010 and counseled on diet and exercise. ( Id. at 260) As of April 11, 2011, she was diagnosed as obese, unspecified. ( Id. at 417)

On April 15, 2009, Plaintiff presented to rheumatologist Maged I. Hosny, M.D. ("Dr. Hosny") with complaints of arthralgias on multiple joints, mainly in both knees and legs. ( Id. at 253) Following examination, Dr. Hosny's impression was bilateral leg pain, likely myofascial in origin versus bursitis of the knees in addition to strain on the knees and legs secondary to being overweight. ( Id. at 254) When Plaintiff returned on June 9, 2009, the leg pain was better, but she continued with intermittent knee pain. ( Id. at 255) Plaintiff denied any pain, stiffness, or swelling in the small joints of the hands, wrists, and shoulders. ( Id. ) When Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Hosny on October 6, 2009, she was slightly better, but continued to complain of pain mostly in both trapezius muscles. ( Id. at 256) As of February 23, 2010, Plaintiff continued with pain in both trochanteric areas and the pelvic area, taking Aleve for pain as needed. ( Id. at 257) Dr. Hosny prescribed Tramadol for the pain. ( Id. )

In October 2009, when Baptiste was 6 1/2 months pregnant, Dr. Michael B. Peters, Jr., ("Dr. Peters") "recoramend[ed] that [she] exercise more to augment weight loss and to improve overall health and fitness." ( Id. 264, 267) Plaintiff underwent a hernia repair in November and, by the following month, she reported "[feeling] well overall" and that the "pain [was] well controlled." ( Id. at 262, 270-71, 319) Dr. Peters concluded that Plaintiff was "[d]oing well post op." ( Id. at 260) In April 2010, Plaintiff was "[o]verall doing well" and had no pain. ( Id. ) Her abdomen was obese, there was no tenderness or guarding. ( Id. ) In May 2010, Plaintiff reported having the same symptoms as prior to the repair, but upon examination there were no hernias, masses, or tenderness. ( Id. at 258) Dr. Peters stated that Plaintiff had "[a]bsolutely no pain on exam today" and Plaintiff was to follow up in two months. ( Id. )

Plaintiff received treatment for pain in the hips, shoulder, and upper back from Susan L. Cowdery, M.D. ("Dr. Cowdery") at Christiana Care Rheurnatology from May 25, 2010 to July 26, 2010. ( Id. at 274-82, 346-55) Dr. Cowdery ran a number of tests and her impression was chronic pain syndrome, vitamin D deficiency, genetic susceptibility to other disease, other dermatitis due to solar radiation, and osteoarthritis with a plan to screen for other rheumatic disorder. ( Id. at 286, 355) Diagnostic testing of the lumbar spine showed small osteophytes with no fracture or subluxation, and the cervical spine had no fractures or subluxation with only a few tiny osteophytes. ( Id. at 351) Dr. Cowdery states that Plaintiff has experienced chronic pain since her teenage years and notes that a referral to pain management has been suggested and declined. ( Id. )

Plaintiff underwent a course of physical therapy from June 2, 2010 to June 30, 2010. ( Id. at 288-92) Plaintiff reported painful hips for over a year, and diagnoses of fibromyalgia and bursitis of the hips. ( Id. at 288) Plaintiff indicated that the pain was constant, she had difficulty falling asleep, is awakened by pain, her activities are limited due to pain/fatigue, she is unable to stand to cook or do the dishes, and she has help with these activities. ( Id. ) Diagnoses were myalgia, myosins NOS, and enthesopathy[3] of the hip. ( Id. ) As of June 30, 2010, Plaintiff had difficulty with arm movements secondary to UE pain/discomfort. ( Id. at 292) Plaintiff took part in initial aquatics without increased hip pain. ( Id. )

Plaintiff received treatment from pain management specialists David Rodriguez, D.O. ("Dr. Rodriguez") and Prabhdeep Grawal, M.D. ("Dr. Grawal") at Advanced Pain Management Services from November 12, 2010 to July 22, 2011. ( Id. at 391-99, 403-15, 418-23, 432-34) Plaintiff presented with multiple joint pains. ( Id. at 393) She had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis due to family history but, upon further evaluation, the diagnosis was changed to psoriatic arthritis.[4] ( Id. ) Plaintiff was diagnosed with porphyria[5] in 2010. ( Id. at 433) Drs. Rodriguez and Grawal prescribed medications and physical therapy and both noted that Plaintiff "is using oxycodone IR 15-mg and is functional on this" and continued Plaintiff on the medication. ( Id. at 393, 396, 399, 420, 423, 433) Upon physical examination, Plaintiff appeared well nourished, well developed, and in no acute distress. ( Id. at 392, 395, 398-99, 407, 410, 414-15, 419, 422, 433) Her neck was supple with no tenderness and only mild pain on range of motion, her low back had tenderness and mild pain with motion, and straight leg raising was negative. ( Id. ) Her extremities had no edema or cyanosis. ( Id. ) Neurologically, Plaintiff's memory was intact, her cranial nerves were grossly intact, she had no motor weakness or sensory loss, and her balance and gait were intact. ( Id. at 392, 395, 398-99, 407, 410, 414-15, 419, 422, 433) She did not demonstrate unusual anxiety or evidence of depression. ( Id. )

In July 2010, State agency physician Michael Borek, D.O. ("Dr. Borek") reviewed the evidence in connection with Plaintiff's initial application and opined that Plaintiff could perform a limited range of light work that involved occasional lifting of twenty pounds and frequent lifting of ten pounds at most, sitting for six hours, and standing/walking for two hours, with numerous postural limitations and some environmental limitations. ( Id. at 47, 293-98) In October 2010, State agency physician Dr. Vinod Kateria, M.D. ("Dr. Kateria") affirmed Dr. Borek's opinion. ( Id. at 50, 357-63)

On July 20, 2010, Joseph Keyes, Ph.D. ("Dr. Keyes"), a psychologist, consultatively examined Plaintiff at the request of the State agency. ( Id. at 299-306) Plaintiff reported that she was not receiving any psychotropic medications. ( Id. at 300) Dr. Keyes found Plaintiff neatly dressed with excellent personal hygiene and grooming, her posture and gait were normal, and she had an overall appropriate appearance. ( Id. ) Plaintiff's speech was clear and easy to understand, abstract thinking was in the low average to average range, memory was intact, and she was able to perform serial threes to forty with no errors. ( Id. at 300-01) Plaintiffs social and interpersonal skills were appropriate but mildly limited. ( Id. at 300) Plaintiff maintained eye contact, answered questions, and initiated appropriate conversation. ( Id. ) She was cooperative, had a pleasant attitude, and an appropriate affect that was tearful at one point. ( Id. at 301) Plaintiff was not easily distracted, was not impulsive, and had adequate insight and judgment. ( Id. )

Dr. Keyes assessed Plaintiffs IQ at 92, which indicates average/normal cognitive Functioning, and a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF")[6] score of 65. ( Id. ) Dr. Keyes opined that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in sustaining work performance and attendance in a normal work-setting, and that she generally had no or only mild impairment in such tasks. ( Id. at 304-05) He diagnosed Plaintiff as having an adjustment disorder with depressive features. ( Id. at 303)

On July 22, 2010, State agency psychologist Douglas Fugate, Ph.D. ("Dr. Fugate"), reviewed the evidence in connection with Plaintiffs initial application and opined that Plaintiff did not have a severe psychiatric condition that would interfere with her ability to work. ( Id. at 307, 317) On October 5, 2010, State agency psychologist Carene Tucker-Okine, Ph.D. ("Dr. Tucker-Okine") affirmed Dr. Fugate's opinion. ( Id. at 364, 374)

On January 21, 2011, Dr. Rodriguez completed a residual functional capacity ("RFC") evaluation. ( Id. at 400-02) He determined that Plaintiff was not capable of performing sedentary work on a regular and continuing basis due to pain throughout her body becoming worse, along with fatigue and depression interfering with her usual activities of daily living as well as occupational activities, and a family history of inflammatory arthritis. ( Id. at 402) On April 7, 2011, Dr. Rodriguez completed a medical statement concerning chronic pain syndrome, in which he indicated that Plaintiff suffers from severe pain due to multiple joint syndrome, psoriatic arthropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, and disorders of porphyrin metabolism that cause marked restrictions in performing daily activities, maintaining social functioning, and maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. ( Id. at 389-90)

On April 11, 2011, Plaintiff presented to Anu Shurrna, M.D. ("Dr. Shumaa") with complaints of severe chronic pain in the back and knee, minimally relieved with oxycodone. ( Id. at 416) Plaintiff reported pain in the hands and feet, primarily, worse in the morning and in the middle of the night. ( Id. ) Upon examination, Plaintiff's upper and lower extremity joints had no synovitis, no effusions, and she had full range of motion. ( Id. ) There was no edema. ( Id. ) Neurologically, there was sensory diminished sensations, grossly intact at the bilateral upper and lower extremities. ( Id. ) Tenderpoints were not present on palpation. ( Id. ) Plaintiff was assessed with psoriatic arthropathy and obesity. ( Id. at 417)

When Plaintiff presented to the Advanced Pain Management Services on July 22, 2011, her history included multiple joint pain, moderate to severe, that occurs constantly and is worsening. ( Id. at 432) The pain is bilateral, aching, dull, and throbbing, but there is no radiation. ( Id. ) The pain is aggravated by bending, climbing and descending stairs, lifting, movement, pushing, sitting, walking, and standing. ( Id. ) It is relieved by heat, pain medication, and rest. ( Id. ) Associated symptoms include decreased mobility, night pain, night-time awakening, tingling in the arms and legs, and tenderness. ( Id. ) Chronic problems include psoriatic arthropathy, chronic pain syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, disorders of porphyrin metabolism, and pain in joint involving other specified sites. ( Id. )

Notes indicate that Plaintiff had been placed on Methotrexate.[7] ( Id. at 433) Plaintiff continued to take oxycodone and is functional on it ( Id. ) She ...

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