Submitted September 10, 2014
Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff.
For Cindy Doreen Ponder, Plaintiff - Appellant: David R. Trussell, NUSSBAUM & HENDRIX, Little Rock, AR.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant - Appellee: Mohammed Hasan Aijaz, Mark Jarrett Kingsolver, Assistant Regional Counsel, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of General Counsel Region VI, Dallas, TX; Stacey E. McCord, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Eastern District of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR.
Before RILEY, Chief Judge, SMITH and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
Cindy Ponder appeals the district court's affirmance of an Administrative
Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of Ponder's application for social security disability insurance benefits. We affirm.
Ponder applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability insurance benefits on September 24, 2010, alleging that she has been disabled since January 11, 2005. She alleged total disability due to depression, anxiety, joint deterioration, and swelling in her hands and feet. She later added hypothyroidism, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), insomnia, anemia, joint and tissue pain, fatigue, residual problems stemming from a brain surgery in 2002, and a lack of motivation. Ponder claims, among other things, that she can sit in a chair for only 30 to 45 minutes before her knees begin aching, can walk only up to a block before she needs to rest, and can stand continuously for less than one hour. Despite these limitations, Ponder performs light housework, washes dishes, cooks for her family, does laundry, shops for groceries and clothing, drives a vehicle, leaves her house alone, attends church, and visits her family.
A. Ponder's Medical History
To obtain disability insurance benefits, Ponder must establish that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (" Act" ) not later than the date her insured status expired--March 31, 2010. Pyland v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 873, 876 (8th Cir. 1998) ( " In order to receive disability insurance benefits, an applicant must establish that she was disabled before the expiration of her insured status." ); see also 42 U.S.C. § § 416(i) and 423(c); 20 C.F.R. § 404.131.
1. Ponder's Medical History Before March 31, 2010
On July 12, 2002, a surgeon removed a cyst from Ponder's brain. The procedure went well, and the surgeon predicted that Ponder would do " very well from this in the long run." Ponder soon reported significant improvement in neurological function, and her surgeon consequently released her from his care. Ponder thereafter returned to work in a rice mill from 2003 to 2005 and never returned to the surgeon for any follow-up care.
In coming years Ponder obtained routine checkups and other examinations from her primary care physician, Dennis Yelvington, M.D. On October 22, 2009, for instance, Ponder visited Dr. Yelvington to obtain a " yearly physical." During the visit Dr. Yelvington noted that Ponder may have " degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis" in her knees, but he also noted that her back, neck, extremities, and neurological functions were otherwise normal. Ponder left " ambulatory in no acute distress," and Dr. Yelvington did not issue her any work restrictions.
Similarly, on November 9, 2009, Ponder visited Stuttgart Medical Clinic and complained of only " sinus congestion/infection." Ponder again " left ambulatory in no acute distress," and again ...