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Anderson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 12, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Rhonda L. Anderson seeks judicial review of a final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, which denied her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. In her appeal, plaintiff raises four challenges. For the reasons provided below, the court will affirm the Commissioner's determination, enter judgment in defendant's favor, and close this case.


         A. Overview of Claimant

         Anderson was 50-years-old at the alleged onset date and at the time she applied for benefits, and 52 at the time of the hearing. She has at least a high school education, is able to communicate in English, and has past work experience as a certified nursing assistant (“CNA”) and sweeper/cleaner. Anderson testified at her hearing that he last worked in December 2010 as a CNA, but could not do the work because of a lifting restriction of 50 pounds. She claims disability based on obesity and degenerative joint disease with right knee replacement.

         B. Medical Record

         The bulk of plaintiff's medical records concern treatment before her knee replacement surgery in September 2012. In June 2012, a note by Lance E. Sathoff, M.D. indicated a diagnosis of right knee degenerative joint disease and described the treatment options, including the recommended treatment of total knee arthroplasty. (AR 210.) These notes are consistent with the treatment notes of physician assistants in the same practice, indicating that Anderson returned to the clinic after three years for evaluation of her right knee because the pain was getting worse.

         On September 17, 2012, Anderson had right knee replacement surgery. (AR 226-27.) A two-week post operation appointment on October 2, 2012, with PA-C Karl DePauw, noted that she was “doing well, ” her pain was 3/10 and her incision was well healed. (AR 248.) She also reported no tingling, numbness or weakness, and her range of motion was “good, ” specifically 86 flexion. (Id.)

         On October 31, Dr. Sathoff saw Anderson for a six-week post-operation appointment. The notes indicate that Anderson again reported pain as 3/10, and that she was “ambulating fair, with assistive devices.” (AR 248.) Dr. Sathoff noted that Anderson again reported no tingling, numbness, or weakness in the affected extremity. At that time, his physical exam revealed that: the incision was well healed, range of motion was fair, she was stable in valgus/varus, and the patella tracked centrally. An x-ray further confirmed that the knee was well aligned and well fixed. (Id.) Overall, Dr. Sathoff concluded that Anderson was “doing well.” (Id.)

         Anderson also attended two physical therapy appointments on October 10 and October 22, 2012. She was, however, a no show for three other appointments and called to cancel two. (AR 228.) Anderson was eventually discharged from therapy on January 30, 2013, because she did not return or call for follow-up therapy appointments.[1]

         Anderson returned to Dr. Sathoff in January 2014 for review of a recent elbow injury and renewed right knee pain. The medical notes state that she had “some stiffness” in her right knee, but physical examination revealed that the incision was well-healed and that her range of motion is at 90-plus degrees. (AR 376-77.) X-rays revealed “satisfactory position of her right total knee arthroplasty.” (AR 377.) The noted plan was to “work on motion.” (Id.) Dr. Sathoff indicated that Anderson “is not to the point where she wishes to have anything further treated for her knee.” (Id.) After reviewing her medical file, state agency physicians came to a similar assessment, limiting Anderson to light work.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ held a hearing on December 23, 2013, and issued an opinion dated April 24, 2014. The ALJ concluded that Anderson was not disabled. (AR 17.) As an initial matter, the ALJ found that Anderson suffered from two severe impairments -- obesity and degenerative joint disease with right knee replacement. Nevertheless, the ALJ found neither impairment nor combination of impairments meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 19.) In making this determination, the ALJ also considered whether Anderson's diagnoses of Grave's disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and hypercholesterolemia constituted severe impairments, but concluded otherwise because they are all “well controlled with prescribed medication.” (Id.) Similarly, the ALJ considered one treatment note indicating that Anderson suffered from depression and was prescribed medication, but found that “the record does not support a finding that this caused significant limitations for an extended period.” (Id. (citing Ex. B9E).)

         Material to one of plaintiff's challenges, the ALJ specifically considered Anderson's obesity. The ALJ noted that her BMI score was 51.4, but citing the correct regulation (Social Security Ruling 02-01p), concluded:

Overall, the evidence does not reflect that the claimant's obesity, when considering its impact on the relevant body systems individuals or in combination results in a listing being met or medically equaled. In addition, the claimant does not allege specific work-related limitations secondary to obesity.

         (AR 20.) Still, the ALJ purported to have considered Anderson's obesity in “reducing her functional capacity.” (Id.)

         At step 5, the ALJ concluded that “the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. When considered in light of the record as a whole, however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible.” (AR 22.) In so finding, the ALJ relied on the following:

o The fact that Anderson had right knee replacement surgery in September 2012, and at the six-week recheck, she was doing well, ...

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