Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Olson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

December 22, 2014

NANETTE OLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Nanette Olson, Plaintiff: Emilie J Roth Richardson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Roth Law Office, PC, Dubuque, IA.

For Commissioner of Social Security, agent of Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant: Stephanie Johnson Wright, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, IA; Chris Carillo, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel - Region VI - Dallas, Dallas, TX.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

JON STUART SCOLES, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

III. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

IV. FACTS

A. Olson's Education and Employment Background

B. Testimony from Administrative Hearing held on June 21, 2013

1. Olson's Testimony

2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

C. Olson's Medical History

V. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

A. ALJ's Disability Determination

B. Objections Raised By Claimant

1. Treating and Examining Source Opinions

a. Dr. Yankey's and Dr. Mulderig's Opinions

b. Healy's Opinions

2. Mental Impairments

3. Credibility Determination

4. RFC Assessment

VI. CONCLUSION

VII. ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 4) filed by Plaintiff Nanette Olson on February 12, 2014, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income (" SSI") benefits.[1] Olson asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner (" Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide her disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In the alternative, Olson requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 15, 2009, Olson applied for both disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In her applications, Olson alleged an inability to work since March 11, 2007 due primarily to back pain. Olson's applications were denied on August 6, 2009. On November 17, 2009, her applications were denied on reconsideration. On January 25, 2010, Olson requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ"). On April 6, 2011, Olson appeared via video conference with her attorney before ALJ Jeffrey Marvel for an administrative hearing. In a decision dated May 4, 2011, the ALJ denied Olson's claims. Olson appealed the ALJ's decision. On August 16, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Olson's request for review. Consequently, the ALJ's May 4, 2011 decision was adopted as the Commissioner's final decision.

On October 5, 2011, Olson filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny her applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits.[2] On August 20, 2012, United States District Court Judge Edward J. McManus reversed and remanded Olson's case to the Commissioner for further consideration of the medical evidence and Olson's subjective allegations of disability.[3] On June 21, 2013, Olson appeared via video conference with her attorney before ALJ Eric S. Basse for an administrative hearing " on remand from the Appeals Council pursuant to a remand from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa." [4] In a decision dated October 23, 2013, the ALJ determined that Olson was not under a disability from March 11, 2007, her disability onset date, through May 4, 2011. Olson did not appeal the ALJ's decision on remand, and the Appeals Council did not review the ALJ's decision on its own. Consequently, the ALJ's October 23, 2013 decision became the Commissioner's final decision.[5]

On February 12, 2014, Olson filed the instant action for judicial review of the ALJ's October 23, 2013 decision.

III. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

Title 42, United States Code, Section 405(g) provides that the Commissioner's final determination following an administrative hearing not to award disability insurance benefits is subject to judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), the Commissioner's final determination after an administrative hearing not to award SSI benefits is subject to judicial review to the same extent as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides the Court with the power to: " [E]nter . . . a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner . . . with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). " The findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . ." Id.

The Court will " affirm the Commissioner's decision if supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is defined as " 'less than a preponderance but. . . enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.'" Id. (quoting Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010)); see also Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1063 (8th Cir. 2010) (" Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a decision but is less than a preponderance.").

In determining whether the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ") meets this standard, the Court considers " all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the evidence." Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Court not only considers the evidence which supports the ALJ's decision, but also the evidence that detracts from his or her decision. Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1091 (8th Cir. 2012); see also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007) (Review of an ALJ's decision " extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; [the court must also] consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision."). In Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained this standard as follows:

This standard is 'something less than the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.'

Id. (quoting Turley v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 524, 528 (8th Cir. 1991), in turn quoting Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988)). In Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549 (8th Cir. 2011), the Eighth Circuit further explained that a court " 'will not disturb the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision falls within the available 'zone of choice.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Bradley v. Astrue, 528 F.3d 1113, 1115 (8th Cir. 2008)). " 'An ALJ's decision is not outside that zone of choice simply because [a court] might have reached a different conclusion had [the court] been the initial finder of fact.'" Id. Therefore, " even if inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, the agency's decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Chamberlain v. Shalala, 47 F.3d 1489, 1493 (8th Cir. 1995)); see also Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010) (" If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, we will not reverse the decision merely because substantial evidence would have also supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided differently."); Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir. 2009) (" 'If there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion, we may not reverse even though there may also be substantial evidence to support the opposite conclusion.' Clay v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2005).").

IV. FACTS

A. Olson's Education and Employment Background

Olson was born in 1956. She did not graduate from high school, but later earned a GED. She also earned a degree from nursing school. In the past, she worked primarily as a licensed practical nurse (" LPN").

B. Testimony from Administrative Hearing held on June 21, 2013

1. Olson's Testimony

At the administrative hearing, Olson was asked whether she was capable of performing typical, routine household chores, such as preparing a meal, washing dishes, or cleaning. Olson replied that she was capable of such activities to " [t]he best that I could at that time." [6] Specifically Olson testified that " [d]oing dishes, I have a stool. Doing dishes I many times had to sit on the stool to complete that task. Vacuuming, I literally sat in my computer chair to vacuum, to roll around because of the back pain." [7] According to Olson, her difficulties with physical activities are primarily due to back pain and shoulder problems. The ALJ further inquired about Olson's back problems and asked her if her back pain limited her ability to be on her feet for most of the day. Olson responded that " I can be up -- I can walk about a block before the pain in my back gets severe and I have to stop." [8] Olson also reported difficulties with memory and concentration.

2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

At the hearing, the ALJ provided vocational expert Carma Mitchell with a hypothetical for an individual who is able to:

perform light work[.] . . . Can frequently balance and occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Cannot climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds.

(Administrative Record at 797). The vocational expert testified that under such limitations, Olson could not perform her past relevant work. The vocational expert testified, however, that Olson's acquired skills would transfer to the following jobs: (1) companion, and (2) blind aide. Using the same hypothetical individual, the ALJ inquired whether such a person could perform any unskilled jobs. The vocational expert replied that such an individual could perform the unskilled jobs of mail clerk and office helper.

C. Olson's Medical History

On January 8, 2007, Olson presented at Finley Hospital in Dubuque, Iowa, complaining of low back pain. She met with Dr. Jon R. Yankey, M.D., and reported that her low back pain started around 4:00 p.m. on January 7, while she was at work. Dr. Yankey noted that:

[Olson] does not recall a specific incident or injury. She states that she was pushing a medication cart at the time that she first noticed the pain. . . . She states that when she first noted the pain yesterday the pain was an " aching." However, the pain progressed quickly and became severe within about two hours. She states that the pain was severe enough that she was having difficulty standing upright.

(Administrative Record at 547.) Olson rated her pain at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most severe pain. Upon examination, Dr. Yankey diagnosed Olson with low back pain, probably exacerbated by degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. Dr. Yankey recommended " conservative treatment, " consisting of medication and exercise. Dr. Yankey also recommended the following work/non-work activity restrictions:

I advised no lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling over 10 pounds. She should limit bending, stooping and twisting. She should be allowed frequent position changes. She should [not do] extensive reaching. She is taking medication which may induce drowsiness.

(Administrative Record at 548.)

On January 16, 2007, Olson returned to Dr. Yankey for a follow-up visit. Olson reported slight improvement since her visit on January 8. She rated her pain at 5 out of 10. Dr. Yankey noted that Olson " is more comfortable than at her last visit. She goes from a sitting to standing position and onto and off the exam table much better and with just very slight stiffness now." [9] Dr. Yankey further determined that:

[Olson's] back has improved slightly since her last visit in that the pain has decreased in intensity[.]. . . Her back motion has improved slightly. She has no true radicular symptoms. She has no neurological deficits although she has mild generalized weakness in her legs which I feel is probably not related to her current back pain.

(Administrative Record at 544.) Dr. Yankey recommended continued " conservative treatment, " including medication and retaining her previous work/non-work activity restrictions.

On January 24, 2007, Olson, again, met with Dr. Yankey for a follow-up appointment. Olson reported that her back pain had improved " well." However, on the evening prior to her appointment, she stated that she had an incident at work that exacerbated her back pain. Specifically, she reported that while helping move a patient, her low back pain increased in intensity and seemed to radiate into her mid-back area. When she stopped, the pain became localized in her low back and decreased in intensity. She rated her pain at 4 out of 10. Dr. Yankey observed that Olson was " comfortable" and could " get up from a chair and onto and off the exam table without stiffness or apparent pain." [10] Dr. Yankey concluded that Olson's " back appeared to have continued to improve well until an incident at work last evening. However, her back today again appears improved. I feel that she is making progress." [11] Dr. Yankey recommended continued " conservative" treatment with medication and 2 weeks of physical therapy.

On February 8, 2007, Olson returned to Dr. Yankey for a follow-up appointment. Olson reported that her back pain had " improved." She rated her pain at 3 out of 10. She stated that her " pain is intermittent and has become less frequent." [12] Olson complained, however, of weakness in both legs and arms. X-rays showed degenerative changes including hypertrophic spurring and disc space narrowing. Upon examination, Dr. Yankey diagnosed Olson with low back pain and bilateral arm and leg weakness. Dr. Yankey noted that Olson's " back pain may be slightly improved. However, she continues to report persistent, fairly symmetrical weakness in her legs and now in her arms. On exam she does appear to have mild weakness which seems to be ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.