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Beckman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 22, 2018

Stephony Beckman, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Edward C. Olson, Attorney, for Plaintiff

          Pamela Marentett, Assistant U.S. Attorney, for Defendant



         Plaintiff Stephoney Beckman seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, who denied her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §1382(c). This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. See ECF No. 1. The parties submitted cross-motions for summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 11 and 14. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED and the case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


         On April 5, 2013, Beckman filed an application for disability insurance benefits. Administrative Record [hereinafter “AR”] 167, ECF No. 10. Beckman alleges that she became disabled on June 19, 2013. Id. Beckman's application was denied initially and again on reconsideration. AR 102, 112. On January 5, 2015, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roger Thomas. AR 11. On February 11, 2015, the ALJ denied Beckman's application for disability insurance benefits. AR 11-22. On July 18, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Beckman's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final for purposes of judicial review. AR 1-3; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On September 19, 2016, Beckman commenced this civil action, seeking a reversal of the Commissioner's decision, or in the alternative, a remand for further proceedings. See ECF No. 1 at 3.


         A. Background

         Beckman was born on September 19, 1966. AR 72, 87. For the purposes of disability insurance benefits, she is considered a younger individual. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). Beckman claims that the following disabilities preclude her from securing and maintaining competitive employment: major depressive disorder; panic disorder; PTSD; somatoform disorder; fibromyalgia; inflammatory arthritis; obesity; and asthma. AR 13. Beckman does not allege any error regarding the ALJ's determinations of the above disabilities. The Court, therefore, adopts the ALJ's factual findings as to these impairments and does not reiterate them below. Beckman's past relevant work includes jobs as a day care assistant, accounts payable, bank teller, manager, substitute teacher, executive assistant, customer service representative, and receptionist. AR 275.

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Physical Health Impairments

         On June 22, 2012, Beckman presented to David Caccarno, M.D., complaining of worsening joint pain and a history of rheumatoid arthritis. AR 363. Beckman reported taking methotrexate and celebrex to control joint pain, but the side effects of these medications concerned her. Id. Specifically, Caccarno noted that Beckman found it more desirable to live with pain than to risk the side effects of taking medication. Id. Caccarno referred Beckman to a rheumatologist for further examination regarding her rheumatoid arthritis and recommended that Beckman begin daily anti-inflammatory drug treatments. Id.

         On July 2, 2012, Wu Sou Pan, M.D., examined Beckman and found no evidence of inflammatory arthritis. AR 369. Wu opined that Beckman's anti-inflammatory medications were not helpful to Beckman's joint pain. Id. Wu also noted that fibromyalgia and somatic complaints were the likely cause of Beckman's ongoing pain. AR 370. On July 9, 2012, Beckman presented to Erica Rodell, M.D., and she reported frustration with Wu's findings-noting her inability to attend work for the last two weeks due to her pain levels. AR 377. Rodell provided Beckman with an excused absence work letter for the next three weeks, in hopes that she would receive treatment from a rheumatologist. Id.

         On July 13, 2013, Beckman presented to Thomas Harkcom, M.D. AR 380. Harkcom diagnosed Beckman with seronegative polyarthritis with erosive changes that developed on minimal therapy as well as secondary fibromyalgia. AR 379. Predinsone and a pool therapy program were recommended as treatment. Id. A second excused from work letter was provided to Beckman, with further evaluation to be made after six weeks. AR 380.

         On July 29, 2012, Beckman was reexamined by Rodell. AR 390. At this examination, Beckman noted her dissatisfaction with the progress she had made since her appointment with Harkcom and difficulty managing her pain. Id. Rodell noted Beckman's leave of absence from work and disability. Id.

         On August 14, 2012, Beckman was examined by David Baram, M.D. AR 394. During this appointment, Baram noted Beckman's history of arthritis. Id. Baram also noted that Beckman should consult with a rheumatologist to obtain a more effective treatment regimen. Id. On August 20, 2012, Beckman was reexamined by Harkcom. An EMG revealed low grade synovitis of the wrist. AR 398. Harkcom noted that Beckman showed good motion in her left hip and knee, and prescribed plaquenil to manage her joint symptoms. AR 400. Beckman also reported improved symptoms. AR 400.

         During a visit in November 2012, Harkcom stated that the primary medical concern at that time was not Beckman's arthritis, but fibromyalgia. AR 406. During this visit, Beckman stated that she was unable to continue with pool therapy due to insurance issues. See id. Moreover, Beckman decided to cease medications due to a concern of adverse side effects. Id. When asked about returning to work, Beckman stated that she does not think that she can maintain employment. See id.

         On January 25, 2013, Beckman was once again examined by Harkcom, and he discussed the importance of exercise-particularly pool therapy with Beckman. AR 409. At this visit, Beckman complained of chronic joint pain and poor life quality. AR 408. Harkcom noted that Beckman suffered from mild inflammatory arthritis, but the condition was minimal. AR 409.

         On March 27, 2013, Beckman presented to Rodell for palpitations and respiratory tract infection. AR 412. Rodell noted that Beckman had refused to participate in pool therapy. Id. Three days later, Beckman was admitted to Woodwinds Hospital after passing out. AR 291. EKG, MRI, and MRA testing were conducted-no abnormalities were found. AR 292.

         On April 10, 2013, Beckman presented to Mary McCauley, MS, LICSW, for a behavioral health evaluation. AR 419. McCauley noted Beckman's “pain disorder associated with a condition: fibromyalgia and arthritis.” AR 420. During the evaluation, Beckman noted a history of depression, anxiety, and pain. Id.

         In August 2013, Rodell noted that Beckman's rheumatologist and the medical and pain management clinic recommended that she gradually return to work over the next year AR 483. Beckman stated that she “would like to get a second opinion from different rheumatologists and pain specialists so that they would approve her for disability.” Id. Rodell informed Beckman that many people are able to work with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, and that her mental health condition was likely the limiting factors to her recovery. Id.

         On December 10, 2013, Beckman was taken to the Woodwinds Hospital Emergency Room after passing out again, however, no abnormalities were found. AR 651. On January 9 2014, Beckman received injections in her spine and a radio-frequency ablation. AR 574. Andrew Schakel, M.D., treated Beckman with methotrexate. AR 568. Schakel noted some swelling; however “there [were] no other swollen joints, upper or lower extremities.” Id.

         In mid-2014, Beckman began attending physical therapy at Courage Kenny Sports and Physical Therapy - Cottage Grove, in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. AR 626. On July 24, 2014, Beckman's physical therapist noted that Beckman had been “doing a lot of packing which makes her body sore, especially her feet and back.” AR 627. The following weekend, Beckman held a yard sale-which left her “emotionally and physically exhausted.” AR 633.

         2. Mental Health Impairments

         On August 14, 2012, Beckman presented to Minnesota Mental Health Clinics, where she was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. AR 285. At the appointment, Beckman's mood and affect were described as calm and she scored a 60 on the Global Assessment of Functioning test-indicating moderate symptoms. AR 285-86.

         In March 2013, Rodell noted mental Beckman's mental health issues and discussed with Beckman her concerns regarding her mental state. AR 412. Furthermore, Rodell noted that Beckman claims that she is often unable to leave her bed and wishes that “she simply would not wake up.” AR 411-12.

         In April 2013, Beckman began psychotherapy sessions with McCauley. AR 415. McCauley's initial diagnose was pain disorder associated with fibromyalgia and arthritis. AR 419. During this appointment, Beckman's mood was described as “depressed and worried” and she scored a 50 on the Global Assessment of Functioning test. Id. On May 6, 2013, Beckman returned to McCauley for further treatment. AR 439. McCauley noted that Beckman's mood was improved and her speech, eye contact, and thought process were within normal limits. Id. Further, Beckman informed McCauley that she had “turned a corner” in her recovery and had recently accepted a position on a committee for a non-profit group. Id. Beckman estimated that position would consume “a couple hours a month, and she can start and stop tasks as needed.” Id.

         On May 17, 2013, Beckman presented to Dr. Gay Bartholic. AR 449. Bartholic diagnosed and prescribed medication for depression and anxiety. Id. A Global Assessment of Functioning score of 52, ...

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