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Anderson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

October 20, 2016

DANIEL JOSEPH ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Daniel Joseph Anderson (“Anderson”) filed his complaint in this Court seeking reversal of the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying his application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Alternately, Anderson seeks a remand for further consideration of his application. On November 13, 2015, Anderson filed his opening brief. Thereafter, on February 18. 2016, the Commissioner filed a responsive memorandum asking the Court to affirm the decision denying Anderson benefits. Anderson filed his reply brief on March 2, 2016. This court may enter a ruling on this matter based on the parties' consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)

         I. PROCEDURE

         On June 20, 2012, Anderson filed his Title II application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 alleging disability beginning January 6, 2012. The SSA denied Anderson's application initially on October 12, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on January 14, 2013. On December 5, 2013, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) where Anderson and an impartial expert appeared and testified. On March 21, 2014 the ALJ issued his decision finding that Anderson was not disabled and denied his application for DIB. On May 15, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Anderson's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Through this action Anderson seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         Anderson was born on May 22, 1962, making him 49 years old at the alleged disability onset date of January 6, 2012. Anderson sought DIB based upon deficiencies related to back pain. Anderson has a high school diploma, and has a substantial work history including working as a forklift operator for two years, a material handler for a year, a welder for four years, and a finish inspector. Anderson's last job was as a welder, in 2012, where he worked for one week and was then terminated after missing a day due to a stomach virus. Unemployed, Anderson applied for disability benefits.

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the hearing before the ALJ, Anderson testified regarding his conditions alleging that he suffered from back pain, left shoulder pain, asthma, insomnia, and hypertension. Anderson testified he has had insomnia since leaving the military and has worked to ameliorate the effects of the insomnia. Additionally, Anderson stated that he worked around chemicals and other irritants in the course of his employment as a welder while suffering from symptoms related to insomnia. During the hearing, Anderson noted that his left shoulder pain is no longer part of his claim for disability. Anderson testified he can walk for 10 to 20 minutes at a time without assistance of a brace or cane and can sit for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. He testified that his pain medication does not work and that he does not have side effects from the medication.

         B. Medical Evidence

         As part of his disability application, Anderson provided the ALJ with medical evidence from 2011 to November, 2013. In 2011 and 2012, Anderson was treated by chiropractor R. Brittany, D.C., for complaints of low back, neck, right shoulder, and knee pain. In January, 2011, Anderson complained of left shoulder pain to his primary care physician, Michael R. Williams, M.D. In July, 2012, Anderson continued complaining of chronic low back and left shoulder pain and asked Dr. Williams for a refill of pain medications. Dr. Williams found no abnormalities during the examination, except pain in Anderson's left shoulder and back, and asthma. Also in July 2012, Anderson saw orthopedic specialist William J. Berghoff, M.D. for complaints of low back pain. Dr. Berghoff advised Anderson to avoid running, jumping, or axial loading activities, but that he could do weight bearing and other activities. Dr. Berghoff prescribed pain medications.

         Consultative examiner Sasiskala Vemulapalli, M.D. examined Anderson in August, 2012, at the request of the state agency. During the examination, the examiner found Anderson's legs were normal, he had no pain with walking, and that he demonstrated normal gait and normal balance. Dr. Vemulapalli opined that the claimant is able to maintain balance during ambulation while carrying objects less than 10 pounds. The doctor opined that Anderson is able to lift/carry less than 10 pound often and over 10 pounds occasionally. Dr. Vemulapalli found that Anderson is able to stand/walk for two hours in an eight-hour day with enough rest in between.

         In September, 2013, Anderson met with Interventional Pain Consultants and Dr. Nolan, M.D. at which time Anderson presented in distress and with a slow and cautious gait. Dr. Nolan diagnosed Anderson with chronic pain syndrome, lumbar disc degeneration[1] and spondylolisthesis[2], kyphosis[3] and disc displacement and increased his dose of hydrocodone for pain and added prescriptions of Cymbalta and Naproxen. A neurological examination revealed intact reflexes, no impairment of his ability to walk on his toes or heels, and normal sensation. Examination revealed no swelling over the lumbar spine, normal strength and tone, no crepitus, no paraspinal spams, and no deformity.

         In August, 2013, Anderson met with another consultative examiner, Ralph Inabnit, D.O. for an examination, at which he noted his history of chronic low back pain that he rated as 8 out of 10 and described as a dull ache across his back. Anderson also reported that standing exacerbates his pain and that he has numbness at times in both legs when standing. Anderson denied any physical therapy, use of a cane or walker, or receiving an epidural or facet block from a pain specialist. Anderson told Dr. Inabnit that he could lift twenty-five pounds and that he was unable to do housework, laundry, or shopping, that he could lift, drive, dress, feed, and bathe himself, as well as pick up keys and coins. When examined, Anderson was found to be obese with a reduced range of motion in his low back. Dr. Inabnit opined that Anderson can sit for two hours, stand for two hours, and walk for two hours at a time, for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday. Dr. Inabnit opined that the claimant should never climb ladders or scaffolds, but could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and claim stairs and ramps.

         On June 26, 2016, Anderson returned to Dr. Williams, his treating physician, for a refill of medication and for Dr. Williams to complete the RFC assessment form for his “application for disability.” Doc. No. 11 at 293. Dr. Williams opined that during a hypothetical eight-hour day Anderson would need to recline or lie down in excess of the typical 15-minute morning break, the 30-60 minute lunch, and the typical 15-minute afternoon break. Dr. William found that Anderson can sit for 20 minutes at a time and stand/walk for 20 minutes at a time for a total of 3 hours of sitting and 3 hours standing/walking in an 8-hour workday. The doctor opined that Anderson requires the ability to shift from sitting, standing, or walking and would need to take unscheduled breaks on an hourly basis for a total of 40 minutes during an 8-hour workday. The doctor also opined that Anderson can lift up to 10 pounds frequently and up to 20 pounds occasionally. Dr. Williams found that Anderson does not have any limitation in performing repetitive reaching, handling, or fingering. The doctor opined that the claimant will be absent from work three or four times a month.

         C. The ALJ's Determination

         After the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision reflecting the following findings based on the five-step disability evaluation prescribed in the SSA regulations. At Step One, the ALJ found that Anderson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 6, 2012, the alleged onset date. At Step Two, the ALJ found Anderson had the following severe impairment: lumbar degenerative disc disease with kyphosis, spondylolisthesis, chronic pain syndrome, and obesity. He also found that Anderson suffered from the several non-severe impairments including asthma, insomnia, hypertension, and left shoulder pain. However, at Step Three, the ALJ found that Anderson's severe impairments in combination and separate did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.04, which set the standard for impairments of the musculoskeletal system, including disorders of the spine. The ALJ noted that the Listings do not contemplate obesity individually; however, the ALJ considered the impairment in combination with Anderson's other impairments. Further the ALJ found that Anderson's back impairment did not rise to a Listing level of severity. The Listing requires an ...


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