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Greenwood v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

March 8, 2018

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



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and the district judge's Order of Reference, Doc. 18, this case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for findings of fact and recommended dispositions of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. 15, should be DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, as construed from her response brief, Doc. 16, [1] should be GRANTED, and the Commissioner's decision should be AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Crystal R. Greenwood seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB), and supplemental security income (SSI) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Doc. 15 at 3. In November 2013, Plaintiff filed for benefits, claiming that she became disabled in June 2012, due to lupus and aplastic anemia. Doc. 13-6 at 2, 9; Doc. 13-7 at 2, 6. Plaintiff later amended her disability onset date to November 4, 2013. Doc. 13-3 at 42. Her application was denied at all administrative levels, and she now appeals to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Doc. 13-3 at 2, 10-21.

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was 31 years old on her claimed disability onset date. Doc. 13-3 at 42; Doc. 13-6 at 2. She is a college graduate and has past relevant work experience as a store manager, operations manager, loan manager, and front desk associate. Doc. 13-7 at 7.

         In November 2013, Dr. Stephanie Menes, M.D., began treating Plaintiff for reflux, arthritis and asthma. Doc. 13-8 at 3-5, 40; Doc. 13-12 at 17. In February 2014, Dr. Menes referred Plaintiff to Dr. Shadan Mansoor, M.D., for her anemia. Doc. 13-8 at 45. Dr. Mansoor subsequently found that Plaintiff's white blood cell count and platelet count did “not suggest aplastic anemia, ” but nevertheless ordered that she undergo intravenous iron therapy, which consisted of two weekly infusions and was completed in February 2014. Doc. 13-8 at 47, 62. At several follow-up appointments, Dr. Mansoor noted that the results of Plaintiff's blood tests were “completely normal, ” and that he explained to Plaintiff that there was no evidence she suffered from aplastic anemia and, instead, her iron deficiency was due to heavy menstrual periods. Doc. 13-9 at 5, 8, 12. In September 2014, Dr. Mansoor ordered another round of intravenous iron infusion therapy. Doc. 13-9 at 5. The therapy consisted of four weekly infusions and was completed in October 2014. Doc. 13-16 at 9.

         Between June and November 2014, Plaintiff complained to Dr. Menes of, inter alia, bilateral leg pain related to her lupus. See Doc. 13-12 at 7, 9, 12, 15; Doc. 13-13 at 25, 28. At each visit (1) Plaintiff reported difficulty walking but noted that her leg pain was relieved by medication; (2) Dr. Menes observed that Plaintiff had an antalgic gait and used a cane for ambulation; and (3) Plaintiff was found to have 5/5 strength in her lower extremities, described as “[v]ery active, not couch potato, ” and advised to “[e]xercise 2-3 times/week.” Doc. 13-12 at 7-9, 10-12, 14-17; Doc. 13-13 at 25-27, 28-30.

         In December 2014, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See Doc. 13-3 at 28-45. Plaintiff testified that, since 1992, she had received intravenous iron infusion therapy “every two to three months.” Doc. 13-3 at 36-37. She testified that each round of therapy consisted of four weekly infusions, lasting between four and six hours each. Doc. 13-3 at 36. Plaintiff averred that, per Dr. Menes' recommendation, she uses a cane “to help walk” and to assuage her fear of falling. However, she admitted the cane was not prescribed by a doctor. Doc. 13-3 at 40.

         Subsequently, in February 2015, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. M. Iqbal Mughal, M.D., at the request of Disability Determination Services. See Doc. 13-16 at 37-50. Dr. Mughal noted that Plaintiff walked with a cane and limped without one, and found that she exhibited “global weakness around 3/5.” Doc. 13-16 at 39-40. Dr. Mughal further noted that Plaintiff's lupus “appear[ed] to be in remission” and that, based on her blood test results, Plaintiff's “[h]istory of anemia . . . sounds more like iron deficiency anemia secondary to menorrhagia rather than aplastic anemia.” Doc. 13-16 at 40. He also completed a Medical Source Statement regarding Plaintiff's ability to perform physical work-related activities. See Doc. 13-16 at 45-50. He opined that Plaintiff could occasionally lift up to twenty pounds and carry up to ten pounds, and, in an 8-hour work day, sit for six hours, stand for three hours, and walk for one hour. Doc. 13-16 at 45-46. Dr. Mughal further determined that Plaintiff's use of a cane was medically necessary, but that she could walk “1/4 of a block” without it, and that she could never stoop or “walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces.” Doc. 13-16 at 46, 48, 50.

         C. The ALJ's Findings

         In June 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Doc. 13-3 at 10. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since the disability onset date, and had the severe impairments of systemic lupus erythematosus, microcytic hypochromic anemia, iron deficiency anemia, and obesity. Doc. 13-3 at 15. The ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments met or equaled a listed impairment, however. Doc. 13-3 at 16. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of sedentary work on a sustained basis and, thus, could return to her past relevant work as a loan manager. Doc. 13-3 at 16; Doc. 13-3 at 21-22. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Doc. 13-3 at 22.

         II. ...

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