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Hammond v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 17, 2015

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


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


The plaintiff Marisol Hammond ("Hammond") filed this action against the defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), on August 5, 2013. (D.I. 9.) Hammond seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI. (D.I. 6 at 30.) Hammond alleges that she has been disabled since June 1, 2006, due to fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. (D.I. 6 at at 152-55, 158-61, 180, 186.) After Hammond's claims were denied at pre-hearing levels, Hammond, her mother, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Melvin Benitz on July 1, 2010. (Id. at 43-95.) The ALJ issued a decision on September 10, 2010, determining that Hammond was not disabled as defined by the Act. (Id. 30-38.) The Appeals Council denied Hammond's request for review, and the Commissioner affirmed the ALJ's decision on February 14, 2012. (Id. at 5-11.) Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons identified below, the court will deny Hammond's motion (D.I. 9) and grant the Commissioner's motion. (D.I. 11.)


Hammond seeks disability benefits for a period starting June 1, 2006. (D.I. 6 at 152-55.) Hammond has not been gainfully employed since 2002, but she worked for short periods of time between 2002 and the alleged onset date in 2006. (Id. at 75-76.) Hammond reportedly has had chronic joint pain since she was sixteen years old, with progressively worsening symptoms. (Id. at 301.) Hammond has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. (Id. at 152-55, 158-61, 180, 186, 375). Additionally, as a consequence of her physical pain, Hammond's discomfort makes her forgetful and unable to maintain concentration. (Id. at 71.) Hammond filed for disability when she was twenty-eight years old. (Id. at 77.) She has a college education and can speak English. (Id. at 62.)

A. Medical History

1. Mental Impairments

Hammond asserts that her chronic pain makes her forgetful and unable to concentrate on tasks. Hammond reportedly has trouble remembering to do things such as take her medication or take her daughter to Girl Scout meetings. (Id. at 87.) She is only able to maintain concentration on tasks and work-related activities for thirty to forty minutes at a time on a "good day, " and only five to ten minutes on a "bad day." (Id. at 199.) Hammond has difficulty following spoken directions but can follow written directions well. (Id. ) Hammond is also on medication for depression. (Id. at 71.)

2. Physical Impairments

Hammond asserts that she is unable to work because of her chronic pain and fatigue. Hammond has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and osteoporosis. (Id. at 152-55, 158-61, 180, 186, 375.) Hammond complains of severe, constant pain, and notes that she has trouble sleeping because of her discomfort. (Id. at 48.)

Hammond began visiting a pain management specialist Dr. Michael April, monthly, starting October 25, 2006, through May 24, 2010. (Id. at 323-49, 520-59, 580-84.) Hammond's goal was to decrease her reliance on pain medication.[1] (Id. at 324, 328, 330-31, 333, 346.) Hammond reported that her pain level improved after starting prolotherapy and radiofrequency neurotomy treatments. (Id. at 324, 338, 340-41, 344.) At a November 2007 visit, Hammond-also informed Dr. April that her neuropathic symptoms had "nearly resolved." (Id. at 334.) Dr. April's notes also indicated that Hammond was improving. (Id. at 325, 333-34, 346.) When Hammond reported continued knee pain, Dr. April ordered an x-ray. (Id. at 349.) The image did not reveal osteoarthritis in her knees. (Id. )

Dr. April completed two Medical Source Statement ("MSS") forms, on July 3, 2008, and May 24, 2010. (Id. at 358-62, 143-46.) In the 2008 MMS form, Dr. April diagnosed Hammond with fibromyalgia, generalized joint pain/osteoarthritis in the knees, osteoporosis, and lumbar degenerative disc disease. (Id. at 358.) Dr. April opined that Hammond could sit for three hours, stand or walk for three hours, frequently lift and carry up to five pounds, occasionally lift and carry five to ten pounds, but could not stoop, kneel, or pull. (Id. at 359.) Dr. April also recommended that Hammond avoid extreme temperatures, humidity, and heights. (Id. at 360.) Dr. April concluded that Hammond could not perform full-time work on a competitive basis and that she would be absent at least three times per month. (Id. at 360-61.)

Dr. April's 2010 MMS form noted that Hammond continued to have diagnoses of fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis of the hands. (Id. at 143.) Dr. April indicated that Hammond could sit up to two hours a day, stand/walk up to two hours a day, and occasionally lift ten pounds. (Id. at 144.) Again, Dr. April stated that Hammond needed to avoid wetness, temperature extremes, heights, and that she could not stoop, kneel, or bend. (Id. at 145.) Dr. April also opined that Hammond had limitations in repetitive reaching, handling, fingering, and lifting, and needed to keep her neck in a constant position. (Id. at 144.) Dr. April reiterated her opinion that Hammond could not hold a full-time job on a competitive basis. (Id. at 145.)

Hammond also sought treatment from internist Dr. Jeffrey Hoeck, starting in November 2006. (Id. at 301.) Dr. Hoeck observed that Hammond had a normal thyroid, positive pressure points, and a supple neck. (Id. ) He also noted that Hammond was alert and oriented but also that she seemed somewhat sad. (Id. ) Dr. Hoeck diagnosed Hammond with fibromyalgia. (Id. ) He tested Hammond for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; both tests came back negative. (Id. at 291.) In June 2007, further tests revealed no jugular venous distention, adenopathy, thyromegaly, carotid bruit, or pretibial edema. (Id. at 304.) Hammond did have mild symmetrical hand tremors, but she showed no evidence of deep vein thrombosis. (Id. ) She had normal pulses, and an abdominal exam revealed no other issues. (Id. )

Later that year, in November 2007, Hammond returned to Dr. Hoeck, complaining of multiple rib fractures. (Id. at 308.) Though her bone mass was low, her other bone density tests were normal. (Id. ) Dr. Hoeck diagnosed Hammond with osteopenia and recommended that she cease smoking, engage in weight-bearing exercise and balance training, and take calcium, vitamin D, and Fosamax. (Id. at 308.) In March 2008, Hammond again sought treatment due to pain throughout her body, but particularly in her hands. (Id. at 311.) Dr. Hoeck found that Hammond did not exhibit hot joints in the hands, swan neck deformities, rheumatoid nodules, or evidence of psoriasis. (Id. ) Dr. Hoeck referred Hammond to a rheumatologist. (Id. )

Hammond received treatment from rheumatologist Dr. Jose Pando six times from December 10, 2009, through May 27, 2010. Dr. Pando's examinations show that Hammond was alert, well groomed, and calm. (Id. at 365.) The examinations also showed that Hammond had normal abdominal, cardiovascular, thyroid, eye, peripheral vascular, and chest and lung exams. (Id. at 365, 371, 373, 381, 384.) Dr. Pando's notes indicated that Hammond had a normal attention span and demonstrated ability to concentrate. (Id. at 365, 371.) Hammond did exhibit mild swelling, moderate tenderness, and pain with decreased range of motion in her hands. (Id. at 365, 371.) Though Hammond's bone density study showed ...

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