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Barron v. Astrue

September 20, 2010

DOUGLAS BARRON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Douglas Barron ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (hereinafter the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on July 17, 2007. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 12). He alleged a disability onset date of June 17, 2003 due to lumbar sadiculopathy. (AR 60). The Agency initially denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI on September 3, 2007. (AR 28). This denial was upheld upon reconsideration. (AR 34). On February 27, 2009, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Jesse Pease conducted a hearing to review Plaintiff's claim. (AR 203). The ALJ denied benefits on August 11, 2009. (AR 21). Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council, which denied his request on December 2, 2009. (AR 4). Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id.). Plaintiff commenced the instant action on January 8, 2010.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on March 11, 1960. (AR 55). He received a GED in 1980 and had no formal or vocational job training. (AR 65). He worked as a warehouse worker from January 1985 until June 17, 2003. (AR 61).

A. Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff's alleged injury began in 2001 while working in a warehouse. (See AR 60, 208). Plaintiff alleged "constant pain and discomfort in [his] lower back." (AR 67). As the alleged injury developed, Plaintiff "missed time from work." (AR 60). In September of 2003, Plaintiff sought medical treatment from Dr. Morris Platt. (AR 117-18). In his report, Dr. Platt indicated Plaintiff received medical treatment from Dr. John Prekezes beginning in February of 2003. (AR 118). Dr. Prekezes diagnosed Plaintiff with disc prolapse and arthritis and placed Plaintiff on temporary total disability. (AR 91, 118). Dr. Prekezes treated Plaintiff with physical therapy and Darvocet. (AR 91).

Dr. Platt ordered an EMG examination of Plaintiff which yielded normal results. (AR 119). Dr. Platt noted that Plaintiff continued with physical therapy and experienced positive results. (Id.). During this time, Dr. Platt referred Plaintiff to Dr. Dikran Torian, a pain management specialist. (AR 114). Dr. Torian diagnosed Plaintiff with degenerative disc disease, lumbar disk bulges, and lumbar radiculopathy. (Id.). Dr. Platt reported that Dr. Torian treated Plaintiff with two separate epidural steroid injections. (AR 120). Despite some temporary relief, Plaintiff reported persistent pain following the injections. (AR 100, 120). Dr. Platt then referred Plaintiff to Dr. Lokesh Tantuwaya, a neurosurgeon, who found that Plaintiff did not require surgery. (AR 120). Ultimately, Dr. Platt found that Plaintiff had a disability which precluded heavy work. (AR 122). Specifically, Dr. Platt found Plaintiff had lost fifty percent of his pre-injury capacity to perform the work required of a warehouse manager. (Id.). As a result, Plaintiff qualified for workers' compensation benefits. (See AR 146).

In December of 2004, Plaintiff underwent an "Agreed Medical Evaluation." (AR 158). Dr. V. Parabhu Dhalla performed the evaluation and confirmed Dr. Platt's opinion that Plaintiff could not perform tasks required by his warehouse position. (See AR 163). Plaintiff relied on Dr. Dhalla and Dr. Platt's reports in his initial application and subsequent requests for SSI and DBI benefits. (AR 28, 33, 38).

In September of 2008, Plaintiff sought medical treatment from Dr. Robert Robbins. (AR 191). Dr. Robbins diagnosed Plaintiff with a back injury and depression. He prescribed Welbutrin and Paxil. (Id.). At Plaintiff's first appointment, Dr. Robbins assessed Plaintiff's physical condition. (AR 183-184). Dr. Robbins found that Plaintiff was unable to stand, walk, or sit for more than two hours in an eight-hour workday. (AR 183). Dr. Robbins found that Plaintiff had no restrictions concerning his ability to use his hands or feet for repetitive motions. (Id.). Further, Dr. Robbins restricted Plaintiff's ability to lift more than ten pounds, as well as climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (AR 184). However, Dr. Robbins also found Plaintiff was capable of frequent reaching from waist to chest, chest to shoulders and above the shoulders. (Id.). Dr. Robbins found that Plaintiff's treatment or medications would not interfere with his ability to work. (Id.).

B. Consultative Examinations

On August 24, 2007, Dr. Zaven Bilezikjian, an orthopaedic specialist, examined Plaintiff. (AR 171). Dr. Bilezikjian found Plaintiff possessed medium exertional capabilities. (See AR 171). Specifically, Dr. Bilezikjian found Plaintiff able to walk, stand, sit, climb ladders, kneel and stoop frequently and without restriction. (Id.). Dr. Bilezikjian reported Plaintiff did not "appear to be in acute or chronic distress" and observed Plaintiff "mov[ing] around the exam room with a fair amount of ease." (AR 170). Further, Dr. Bilezikjian reported Plaintiff was able to rise onto his toes and heels without difficulty. (Id.). Also, Dr. Bilezikjian reported Plaintiff had a normal range of motion that lacked evidence of a discernable limitation on Plaintiff's flexibility. (Id.).

Dr. Robin Campbell performed Plaintiff's complete psychological evaluation on April 16, 2009. (AR 192). Dr. Campbell reported that though Plaintiff appeared sad and depressed at times, he had a pleasant manner and good hygiene. (AR 194). Dr. Campbell reported Plaintiff took Welbutrin, Abilify, and Peroxetine to treat his depression and admitted improvement with the medication. (AR 193). Dr. Campbell noted Plaintiff had never been psychiatrically hospitalized, had never been in mental health treatment, and did not see a psychiatrist or therapist. (Id.).

Dr. Campbell found Plaintiff had linear thought processes, was alert and oriented to time, and had concentration that was "adequate for conversation and time-limited assessment tasks." (AR 194-95). Further, Dr. Campbell found Plaintiff did not suffer from hallucinations, delusions, obsessions, or compulsions nor did Plaintiff show signs of paranoia or memory impairment. (AR 195). Dr. Campbell reported Plaintiff's judgment and insight were adequate and he "did not present with obvious cognitive delays." (Id.). Dr. Campbell stated, "[Plaintiff] is able to do household chores, run errands, shop, drive, cook, and dress and bathe himself." (AR 194). Dr. Campbell also stated that Plaintiff "gets along very well with those people he comes into contact with daily." (Id.). Dr. Campbell reported Plaintiff possessed the ability to "care for the horses and dogs" and "pay his own bills," as well as walk his daughter to and from the bus stop. (Id.). Notably, Dr. Campbell stated Plaintiff was able to "get about without physical assistance." (Id.). In concluding his summary of Plaintiff's activities, Dr. Campbell wrote: "In the morning, he gets up and feeds the horses. He will take his daughter to the bus stop. In the afternoon, he will take a nap and pick up his daughter. In the evening, he will feed the horses and doges and watch TV." (Id.).

Based on these reports, Dr. Campbell "rule[d] out major depressive disorder" and diagnosed Plaintiff with bereavement. (AR 196). Specifically, Dr. Campbell stated Plaintiff's abilities to "understand, remember, and carry out complex instructions," to "make judgments on complex work decisions," and to "respond appropriately to usual work situations and changes in a routine setting" were moderately impaired. (Id.). Dr. Campbell further stated Plaintiff's ability to "interact appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers" was mildly impaired. (Id.). However, Dr. Campbell found Plaintiff's ability to "make judgments on simple, work-related decisions" was unimpaired. (Id). Further, Dr. Campbell found Plaintiff had the ability to understand, remember and carry out short, simple instructions. (Id.).

C. Plaintiff's Subjective Complaints

In his "Disability Report," Plaintiff claimed he suffered from lumbar sadiculopathy that precluded lifting, bending, driving, or performing his job as a warehouse worker. (AR 60). Plaintiff stated he stopped working on June 17, 2003 because his employer would only allow him to work at full capacity even though his doctor restricted this ability. (See AR 60). Plaintiff reported his work duties included lifting and ...


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