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Reese v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 27, 2014

BRIAN REESE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN E. MARTINEZ, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Brian Reese on March 29, 2012, and a Plaintiff's Brief in Support of His Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 15], filed by Plaintiff on July 25, 2012. Plaintiff requests that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On August 4, 2012, the Commissioner filed a response, and on October 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed a reply. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 8, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") with the U.S. Social Security Administration ("SSA") alleging that he became disabled on June 26, 2008. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On October 26, 2010, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Edward P. Studzinski held a hearing at which Plaintiff, with counsel, Plaintiff's wife, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. On November 10, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.

The ALJ made the following findings under the required five-step analysis:

1. The claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2008.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 26, 2008, the alleged onset date. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has severe impairments: depression, degenerative joint disease, degenerative disk disease, status post left foot surgery, and obesity. (20 CFR 404.1250(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), requiring that he lift 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant can stand and walk for six hours with normal breaks but cannot walk on slippery or uneven surfaces. The claimant can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can never crawl. The claimant should never be around fumes, odors, dusts, gases, or poor ventilation or hazards such as unprotected heights or exposed machinery. The claimant is limited to work that is simple, routine, and repetitive consisting of three to four step tasks. The claimant is limited to work which does not require a high production rate and does not require more than occasional interaction with the general public, coworkers or supervisors.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was 48 years old, defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (see SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 26, 2008, the alleged onset date, through the date of the decision. (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

On April 10, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

FACTS

A. Background

Plaintiff was 49 years old on the date of his alleged disability onset, 50 years old on the date of the hearing. He had a high school education and past work as a mechanic.

B. Medical and Mental Health Evidence

Plaintiff suffers from degenerative disk disease with ventral disc bulging, and lumbar radicular pain. For treatment, he has undergone epidural steroid injections, painkillers, and corrective back surgery. Plaintiff also has been diagnosed with bilateral degenerative arthritis in his knees, with joint swelling and tears in his medial and lateral meniscuses. He has had several arthroscopic procedures. In addition, Plaintiff suffers from foot pain, and has had multiple osteotomies of his third metatarsal. In addition, Plaintiff is obese and suffers from obstructive sleep apnea.

In June 2010, Dr. Magno, Plaintiff's treating physician, completed an assessment in which he opined that, due to back and bilateral knee pain, Plaintiff was not capable of walking a block, could only sit for 45 minutes and stand for 5 minutes at a time, could only sit, stand, or walk for less than 2 hours in an 8 hour workday, and needed fifteen-minute breaks four times per day. Dr. Magno also opined that Plaintiff should elevate his legs and needed a cane for ambulation and limited Plaintiff to lifting no more than ten pounds. In addition, he wrote that Plaintiff would be off task approximately 25% of the day and would likely miss more than four days of work per month due to his impairments and/or treatment.

In August 2009, consultative examining physician Dr. Smejkal noted that Plaintiff had a limping gait and had difficulty stooping, heel-toe walking, and getting on and off the examination table. He appeared to be comfortable sitting and had no spinal tenderness, negative straight leg raising, normal range ...


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