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Keenan v. Astrue

May 14, 2010

STEPHEN D. KEENAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying, in part, plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 Plaintiff contends that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") underlying determination that plaintiff is entitled to benefits as of May 1, 2006, but not as of plaintiff's alleged disability onset date of December 24, 2004, is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. He requests a remand for the calculation and award of benefits for the period beginning December 24, 2004, or alternatively, a remand for a new hearing and decision limited to the determination of the date of onset of plaintiff's disability. For the reasons stated below, and as a result of the supplemental briefing submitted by the parties, the undersigned remands this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this order.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

On June 7, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") alleging a disability onset date of December 24, 2004. (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 15, 56-58.) The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 45-49, 51-55.)

On May 18, 2007, following plaintiff's timely request for a hearing, the ALJ conducted a hearing on plaintiff's claims. (AT 44, 287-327.) Plaintiff and his wife testified at the hearing, and plaintiff was represented by counsel. (See AT 289-327.)

In a decision dated July 18, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff suffered from severe diabetes, neuropathy, and hypertension that had rendered plaintiff disabled within the meaning of the Act beginning May 1, 2006.*fn2 (AT 20-21.) However, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act between the alleged date of disability onset, December 24, 2004, and May 1, 2006. (AT 18-20, 22.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 4-6.)

B. Medical Evidence

1. Plaintiff's Relevant Treatment History

At the time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was approximately 54 years old.*fn3 (See AT 289-90.) Plaintiff attended high school, trade school, and three years of college. (AT 290.) Plaintiff worked in the sheet metal industry, but, since approximately December 2004, had only made one attempt to work and was physically unable to continue after approximately four or five days. (AT 290-92.)

Plaintiff saw several treating physicians within the Kaiser system. The medical records in the administrative transcript indicate that plaintiff first visited Laure M.B. Lee, M.D., on January 31, 2005. (AT 151.) Plaintiff reported to Dr. Lee that he had swelling and water retention, low back pain, abdominal pain, and leg cramps. (AT 152.) Dr. Lee made no clinical findings other than that plaintiff was obese and had high blood pressure, but noted that plaintiff needed certain medications.*fn4 (AT 153.) She also ordered an abdominal CT scan (AT 153), which plaintiff underwent on February 11, 2005 (AT 165-66). The results of that scan were normal.

On March 8, 2005, Dr. Lee examined plaintiff. (AT 148.) Her notes indicate that plaintiff requested that she find him disabled. (AT 148.) Dr. Lee noted that she told plaintiff that although a finding of temporary disability was appropriate until his vision issues were assessed, she would "not sign for permanent disability." (AT 148.)

On March 18, 2005, plaintiff saw Dr. Lee and reported to her that his vision continued to be "a huge problem." (AT 148.) Dr. Lee's treatment notes state, in part, that "due to swing in blood sugars can't see to do metal sheet metal working." (AT 148.) That same day, she completed part of a "Visit Verification/Family Leave Health Care Provider Certification" form, wherein she noted: "Patient no longer able to work as sheet metal worker secondary to vision changes with Diabetes." (AT 150.) Dr. Lee did not fill out the functional assessment portion of the form.

On April 13, 2005, Dr. Lee completed a "Physician's Medical Report" for the Sheet Metal Workers of Northern California Pension Plan on plaintiff's behalf. (AT 145, 283 (duplicate).) This form related to Dr. Lee's examination of plaintiff on March 18, 2005, and Dr. Lee reported a diagnosis of "Diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol." (AT 145.) The form asks a number of questions, and, in sum, Dr. Lee responded that: (1) plaintiff was "[u]nable to work as a sheet metal worker secondary to vision changes due to diabetes," (2) plaintiff was totally disabled as of March 18, 2005, (3) it was "unclear" whether the disability appeared to be permanent, and (4) plaintiff could perform no work. (See AT 145.)

On July 13, 2005, plaintiff saw Dr. Lee and reported pain in both calves at rest and with motion, tremors, unimproved vision (noting that "eye doctor says vision OK"), and sweats after eating. (AT 144.) Dr. Lee's physical examination revealed "[n]o apparent distress" and no clinical abnormalities. (See AT 144.)

On September 9, 2005, plaintiff visited Dr. Lee and reported "concerns" about a tremor or shakiness in his left hand, chronic numbness possibly as a result of a fall, blurry vision, inability to walk long distances due to right leg pain, and occasional sudden disorientation. (See AT 143.) On examination, Dr. Lee reported "[n]o apparent distress" and no clinical abnormalities. (See AT 143.) She also reported "no obvious resting tremor." (AT 143.)

On September 14, 2005, plaintiff underwent a brain MRI, which produced normal results. (AT 280.) The test ruled out "demyelinating ...


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