United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HARRIS TOLIVER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
parties have consented to proceed before the magistrate
judge. Doc. 18. Now before the Court are the parties'
cross motions for summary judgment. Doc. 17; Doc. 22. For the
reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment is DENIED, Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED, and the Commissioner's decision
seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner
denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under the
Social Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff filed
for benefits in June 2013, claiming that she became disabled
in April 2013. Doc. 14-3 at 19; Doc. 14-6 at 4-6.
Plaintiff's application was denied at all administrative
levels, and she now appeals to this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Doc. 14-3 at 2-4; Doc. 14-3 at 16-33;
Doc. 14-5 at 4-8; Doc. 14-5 at 10-12.
was 51 years old when she filed her application for
disability benefits. Doc. 14-6 at 4. She has a high school
equivalency diploma and past relevant work experience as a
store stocker. Doc. 14-3 at 80; Doc. 14-7 at 14; Doc. 14-8 at
relevant medical history indicates that she sought treatment
from an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gregg T. Podleski, D.O., from
July 2012 to March 2013. Doc. 14-8 at 3-11. He noted that
Plaintiff had prior right knee arthroscopic surgery and was
suffering from severe osteoarthritis in the knee. Doc. 14-8
at 7. By September 2012, however, Dr. Podleski opined that
Plaintiff's knee was “close to 100%, ” and
she could return to work on full duty the upcoming week. Doc.
14-8 at 6.
a May 2013 trip to the emergency room for moderate lower back
pain, an X-ray of Plaintiff's lumbar spine showed
moderate degenerative changes at ¶ 4-L5 with an anterior
subluxation of the L4 on L5, but the remainder of the
examination revealed only mild degenerative changes. Doc.
14-8 at 15, 17. An August 2013 MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar
spine revealed: (1) at ¶ 4-5, a disc bulge, bilateral
facet effusion and anterolisthesis causing severe bilateral
neuroforaminal stenosis; and (2) at ¶ 5-S1, a disc
bulge, bilateral facet hypertrophy and facet effusion causing
severe left and moderate right neuroforaminal stenosis. Doc.
14-9 at 4. In a November 2013 examination, Plaintiff had a
normal gait pattern, could heel and toe walk without
difficulty, her sensation was grossly intact, a straight leg
raise test was negative, and she had full range of motion in
her cervical and lumbar spine and full strength in all of her
extremities. Doc. 14-9 at 15-16.
latter half of 2013, state agency physicians Drs. Randal Reid
and Betty Santiago, M.D., both opined the Plaintiff retained
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to (1)
lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently; (2) sit/stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour
workday; (3) occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes
and scaffolds; and (4) occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch.
Doc. 14-4 at 4-7; Doc. 14-4 at 15-18. Both doctors listed
three occupations “in which there are a significant
number of jobs that exist in the national economy” that
Plaintiff could perform, including ticket seller. Doc. 14-4
at 9; Doc. 14-4 at 18. At Plaintiff's administrative
hearing, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified
that, given the RFC found by Dr. Santiago and the example job
of ticket seller she provided, Plaintiff could perform that
light, unskilled work. Doc. 14-3 at 87-88.
The ALJ's Findings
February 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for
benefits, finding that she had the RFC to perform the
restricted range of light work specified by the state agency
physicians. Doc. 14-3 at 26. The ALJ acknowledged that the
framework of medical vocational guideline rule (“Grid
Rule”) 202.14 supported a finding of “not
disabled, ” and Plaintiff could make a successful
adjustment to work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, such as ticket seller, as stated by the VE.
Doc. 14-3 at 32-33.
submitted additional medical records to the Appeals Council
(“AC”), which revealed that she continued to
experience back and knee pain. Doc. 14-3 at 40-42. A spinal
MRI performed in March 2015 demonstrated diffuse disc bulging
at the L4-5 level with severe bilateral neuroforaminal
stenosis at the L4-5 level and moderate to severe bilateral
neuroforaminal stenosis at the L5-S1 level. Doc. 14-3 at 54.
In December 2015, Plaintiff reported that her knee and back
pain level had ...