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Clanton v. Colvin

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

September 28, 2016

ERIC L. CLANTON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Eric L. Clanton (“Clanton”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying his applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.[1]For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On March 8, 2012, Clanton protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of August 4, 2010, due to coronary artery disease, hypertension, cellulitis, lower back pain, ankle pain, and obesity. His claims were initially denied on August 30, 2012, and again on reconsideration. Clanton timely filed a written request for a hearing and on March 24, 2014, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge John H. Metz (the “ALJ”). Clanton was present and represented by counsel. A medical expert, Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D. (“Dr. Sklaroff”), and a vocational expert, Deborah A. Dutton-Lambert (the “VE”), testified at the hearing. On April 11, 2014, the ALJ denied Clanton's applications for DIB and SSI. Following this decision, Clanton requested review by the Appeals Council. On June 18, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Clanton's request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. On July 17, 2015, Clanton filed this action for judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         At the time of his alleged disability onset date, Clanton was fifty years old, and he was fifty-four years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Clanton has a high school education. Prior to the onset of his alleged disability, Clanton had been employed as a parts control inspector for a medical supply company for fifteen years from 1995 to 2010. He stopped working in August 2010 as a parts control inspector because of his eighteen-month incarceration for a driving offense. He alleges that his disability began in August 2010. Clanton is 6'2” and at the time of his hearing weighed 262 pounds.

         In 2001, Clanton was diagnosed with coronary artery disease, and he required placement of a stent because of an occluded left anterior descending artery. In 2008, Clanton required a second stent because of a right coronary artery blockage. (Filing No. 12-7 at 9.) However, after those procedures, Clanton was not fully compliant with his medication regimen.

         In April 2012, Clanton went to the hospital emergency room because he was experiencing chest pain. Clanton reported that the chest pain had been intermittent for two weeks. The pain would last for only a few moments and would come on either by exertion or when at rest. He developed leg swelling a couple of days before going to the hospital. Clanton complained of shortness of breath and chest pains after walking two to three blocks. Clanton admitted to the medical professionals that he had not been taking his medications for several months because he had run out of them and had no insurance or money to refill the prescriptions. He had chest x-rays, an EKG, and an ECG performed. The chest x-ray indicated no acute cardiopulmonary disease, and everything was within normal limits. The EKG was within normal limits also. The ECG revealed normal left ventricular ejection fraction of 65%. When Clanton was discharged from the hospital, he was directed to continue taking his medications and to begin a “heart healthy” diet. (Filing No. 12-7 at 7-11.)

         During his time at the hospital, Clanton underwent a Lexiscan Stress ECG, which revealed normal blood pressure responses, no chest discomfort with stress testing, and no fixed or reversible perfusion defects. Id. at 12-14. Clanton was diagnosed with angina and given nitroglycerin while he was in the hospital. The nitroglycerin was effective. He also had uncontrolled blood pressure when he entered the hospital, but it was improved on medication. Id. at 14.

         Clanton underwent a consultative medical examination on June 27, 2012, as part of the disability process. Clanton was examined by Andrew J. Sonderman, M.D. (“Dr. Sonderman”). Clanton explained to Dr. Sonderman that he was seeking disability benefits because of his coronary artery disease and chronic low back pain. He explained that he had stents placed in 2001 and 2008 and that he was taking nitroglycerin for his occasional chest pain. Dr. Sonderman noted that Clanton had some swelling in his legs. (Filing No. 12-7 at 47.)

         Clanton reported to Dr. Sonderman that he had been experiencing chronic low back pain for approximately twenty years. Twenty years earlier, Clanton suffered a gunshot wound to the back, and the bullet lodged near his spinal cord. He underwent surgery to have the bullet removed, but he suffered paralysis from the waist down for about three months. Clanton spent six to seven months in rehabilitation to learn how to walk again. He reported pain in his lower back that radiated down his right leg, which was aggravated by bending and lifting. He explained that he did not experience numbness in his leg. Clanton was taking Vicodin and Aleve to manage the pain. Id.

         Clanton reported to Dr. Sonderman that he was able to “open a jar, pick up a coin off of the table, tie his shoes, button and zip his clothing, dress and undress himself, bathe himself, push a full grocery cart, pull, sweep, mop, and write clearly.” (Filing No. 12-7 at 48.) Clanton also reported being able to walk for thirty minutes before needing to rest, stand for twenty minutes at a time, stand for three hours total in a work day, and sit for seven hours total in a work day. Clanton reported that he could lift twenty pounds with either arm. Id. at 47.

         During the examination, Clanton denied any heart murmurs, palpitations, syncope, or shortness of breath. Dr. Sonderman noted that Clanton was stable at station and comfortable in the seated and supine positions. On examination, Dr. Sonderman found that Clanton had normal musculoskeletal functioning and a negative bilateral straight leg raise test. A review of the peripheral vascular system revealed 1 pretibial pitting edema. Dr. Sonderman noted that Clanton walked with a limp because of decreased range of motion in his right ankle. Clanton could stand on his left leg alone but not on his right leg. He could walk on his heels and walk on his left toes but not on his right toes. All other systems and functioning were normal. Id. at 48-50.

         Clanton sought medical treatment for cellulitis from July through December 2012. His condition was described as an open wound on his right leg, and he was referred to receive physical therapy. His progress notes showed that the wound was treated with antibiotic ointment and compression wrapping. After thirteen visits to physical therapy, Clanton's wound was healed by December 20, 2012, and by January 2013, he was discharged from further services. His discharge summary showed that he was given compression garments. (Filing No. 12-7 at 64-65, 78-80; Filing No. 12-8 at 16.)

         A Social Security medical consultant completed a residual functional capacity assessment in August 2012 and determined that Clanton could lift and carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. He could stand and walk at least two hours in an eight hour work day and could sit about six hours in an eight hour workday. The medical consultant noted a July 2012 x-ray of Clanton's lumbar spine that revealed degenerative disc disease at ¶ 2-3 and L4-5 and only mild spondylosis. The medical consultant also opined that Clanton could frequently balance; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. It was opined that Clanton should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold, fumes, odors, gasses, dusts, poor ventilation, and hazards such as machinery and heights. The medical consultant also noted that Clanton was noncompliant with his medications, and Clanton reported that he could mow the grass. (Filing No. 12-7 at 66-73.)

         During a medication check and follow-up examination in October 2012, Clanton's blood pressure was slightly evaluated; however, he had no edema in his lower extremities. (Filing No. 12-7 at 81-82.) An ECG showed normal blood pressure responses and no chest discomfort with stress testing. Id. at 82. In February 2013, Clanton returned for a follow-up cardiac appointment at the clinic and reported that he was doing well and not experiencing any cardiac symptoms. He reported that he was walking three to four blocks without any symptoms. His ECG results were again within normal limits. (Filing No. 12-8 at 11-12.) At his six-month follow-up appointment in August 2013, Clanton reported that he was doing very well and had no complaints. He had only occasional chest pain, but it was not severe and did not last very long. He could walk about four to six blocks without any chest pain or shortness of breath. He reported shortness of breath with heavy exertion. His ECG results were again within normal limits. Id. at 12-13.

         In January 2014, Clanton went to the emergency department for recurrent sub-sternal chest pain. An initial EKG and chest x-rays did not reveal signs consistent with an acute heart attack, but subsequent EKGs showed development of anterior Q-waves. Because of ongoing chest pain and increasing cardiac markers from abnormal EKGs and ECGs, Clanton was sent for emergent cardiac catheterization, which showed 100% blockage of the mid left anterior descending artery stent. It was determined that Clanton had suffered an acute heart attack. Clanton underwent thrombectomy and balloon angioplasty to ...

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