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Towne v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 3, 2014

JON E. TOWNE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPEAL

TIM A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

The parties appeared by counsel February 11, 2014, for an oral argument on Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Set forth below is the Court's oral ruling from the bench following that argument. This ruling affirms the decision of the Commissioner, and denies the Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits.

THE COURT: All right. I will now issue my decision in this case. Plaintiff presents three issues in this appeal. First, whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that plaintiff was not disabled due to chronic chest, cardiac and back pain, shortness of breath and fatigue, severely impairing his ability to stand and walk; No. 2, whether the ALJ's credibility determination is contrary to Social Security regulation or Ruling 96-7P, and thus patently erroneous; third, whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that plaintiff could perform jobs in the national economy, and thus is not disabled.

By way of background, plaintiff asserts he became disabled on March 31, 2006. Following a hearing, the ALJ found him not to be disabled in a January 26th, 2012 decision. The appeals' counsel then affirmed.

Plaintiff has atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease with stinting, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, lumbar spine dysfunction, and obesity. On appeal, plaintiff also emphasizes that he had problems with anxiety and daily panic attacks.

The Court must uphold the ALJ's decision as substantial evidence supports her findings; Blakes versus Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565 at 568, Seventh Circuit 2003.

The ALJ is obligated to consider all relevant medical evidence, and cannot simply cherrypick facts that support a finding of non-disability while ignoring evidence that points to a finding of disability; Denton v. Astrue , 596 F.3d 419 at 425, Seventh Circuit 2010. However, the ALJ need not mention every piece of evidence so long as she builds a logical bridge in the evidence to her conclusion.

Plaintiff argues that the following issues were ignored by the ALJ: Plaintiff's history of high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia, plaintiff's six refills of Vicodin for his back pain, Dr. Krausman's March 19, 2009 report prescribing Vicodin again, the Shelby Community Health Center's June 22nd, 2009 report that plaintiff needed assistance obtaining medication; the Health Center's July 23rd, 2009 report of elevated blood pressure and pain in plaintiff's joints and low back; and October 13, 2009 consultative examination recording that plaintiff suffered from fatigue, shortness of breath on moderate exertion, and chest pain; and the Health Center's October 15, 2009 report of low back pain and subsequent medication.

Moreover, plaintiff asserts that the ALJ misstated Dr. Krausman's findings when she characterized them as "occasional muscle tightness in his chest" when in actuality, Dr. Krausman stated plaintiff had "occasional muscle cramp feeling in his chest."

The ALJ's decision is certainly not a model opinion. For one, she misstates some of the evidence. In one instance, the ALJ notes that plaintiff's treatment report from March 2nd, 2011, reported heart rate and rhythm, but the notes from that evaluation report a heart gallop. Counsel for the commissioner on this appeal has tried to minimize that, but it's not clear to me that that is an accurate interpretation of the record, and in any event, the ALJ made her findings on that particular matter. I don't feel as though I can make different findings based upon my review of the record and input from counsel.

Plaintiff's July 23rd, 2009 evaluation at the Heart Center reports an elevated blood pressure of 140 over 90, which the ALJ incorrectly characterizes as irregular heart rhythm. That's in the record at page 273.

The ALJ also notes the results of plaintiff's straight leg raise test, but failed to indicate that the results support plaintiff's purported pain.

The ALJ indicates that plaintiff had difficulty in standing on his left leg; however, the October 13, 2009 report indicates he had extreme difficulty in standing on his left leg. That's in the record at page 285. Moreover, the ALJ's decision does not mention evidence that Dr. Krausman prescribed plaintiff Vicodin from July 2008 till March 2009 for back pain. That's in the record at page 350 through 354.

The Court agrees with the plaintiff that the ALJ did not mention every piece of evidence and misstated this evidence on some occasions. Importantly, however, the ALJ did not cherry pick the evidence that only supported a finding of disability. Plaintiff's counsel during oral argument asserted that the ALJ ignored all the evidence that - plaintiff's counsel asserted at oral argument that the ALJ ignored all the evidence of the plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff's counsel went so far at the argument to say ...


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