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Alphonso Collins v. Michael J. Astrue

August 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Alphonso Collins ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin, for findings and recommendations to the District Court.


Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income benefits in June of 2007. See AR 144-150. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 108-112, 115-119. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and a hearing was held before ALJ James P. Berry. AR 122-125, 126-139. ALJ Berry issued a decision denying benefits on November 21, 2009. AR 36-43. On July 7, 2011, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-2.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Berry held a hearing on August 5, 2009, in Fresno, California. Plaintiff was present and testified; he was represented by attorney Jeffrey Milam. Vocational Expert ("VE") Thomas Dachelet also testified. AR 48-86.

On the date of the hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-six years old. He is married with two children, ages twelve and fifteen. AR 52-54. He does not have a driver's license and depends on his mother, brother, or public transportation to get around. AR 53. Plaintiff completed the twelfth grade and some college, earning a vocational certificate for medical assisting that he has never used professionally. AR 54. He is right-handed, six feet two inches tall, and weighed 350 pounds at the time he testified, having gained fifty pounds within the year proceeding the hearing. AR 54.

Plaintiff suffers from diabetes, which causes him to experience numbness in his hands, feet, and legs. AR 57. It also causes profuse sweating, frequent urination, decrease in visual ability, fatigue, and "the shakes." AR 57. He experiences numbness in his feet and legs all day long if he does not move. AR 57. His hands are numb if he does not constantly move or rub them. AR 57-58. He indicated he feels a "hot chill" and sweats fifty percent of the day. AR 58-59. Plaintiff testified he uses the restroom up to ten times an hour, but also indicated it has been up to fifteen times in one hour, or "every ten minutes." AR 59-60. Plaintiff's attorney clarified, and Plaintiff agreed, that on bad days, he's "in and out [of the bathroom] every two or three minutes." AR 60. He was prescribed Lasix to help eliminate water retention associated with diabetes. AR 59. He feels the urgency even if the urine volume was low, and can "hold it" for a while, but risked an accident. AR 60-61. Plaintiff also suffers from blurred vision once a month as a side effect of his diabetes. AR 62. Additionally, he has a GI problem due to his diabetes and experiences nausea, fatigue, reflux, and pain in his chest. AR 73-74. He takes medication and had his gall bladder removed. AR 73.

Plaintiff tests his blood sugar four times a day, and has a functional range from 220 to 385. AR 62-63. His sugar level has dropped down to 80 on several occasions, and he is rushed to a hospital when this occurs. AR 63-64. Plaintiff's sugar level went above 385 in the week before his testimony, and he was hospitalized for three days. AR 64. He has trouble keeping his diabetes regulated, but takes his medications as a doctor prescribes them. AR 79. In regards to his diet, Plaintiff does not eat fried foods and watches his carbohydrate intake, but does not have a calorie ceiling. AR 79.

Plaintiff also suffers from heart problems. AR 65. His symptoms include pressure on his chest, shortness of breath, shooting pain, and fatigue. AR 66. He lies down for four and a half hours in an eight-hour day and feels that he could be on his feet for an hour, but would need to sit down several times. AR 66. Plaintiff can sit about thirty minutes at a time. AR 67. He can lift around twenty pounds. AR 67-68. He can use his hands for writing for about ten minutes but needs to rest them for at least half an hour. AR 74-75.

On a typical day, Plaintiff wakes up, showers, checks his blood sugar, eats, takes his medication, lies down, then checks his blood sugar again. AR 68-69. He watches television for about four hours a day and reads his bible. AR 69.

His wife and children help him wash his feet and put on shoes and check on him to make sure he hasn't fallen. AR 71-72. Plaintiff has fallen a few times, and once received stitches for his injuries. AR 72. However, though he sometimes feels "woozy," he does not use a cane to help him walk. AR 72.Plaintiff attends church services for about an hour and a half, one day a week. AR 69. He believes his medications are helpful, but their side effects leave him feeling drowsy all day and unable to function. AR 80.

Plaintiff's past work experience includes being a fast food cashier, telemarketer, farm equipment operator, and assistant manager at Wal-Mart. In April of 2007, he worked at Wendy's fast food restaurant as a cashier. AR 56, 75. He worked there approximately one month before he was discharged by his employer. AR 56. In that position, Plaintiff lifted dishes, pots, and pans weighing less than twenty pounds. AR 75-76. He next worked as a telemarketer for about one month. AR 56. This was a "sit-down job." AR 76. While working as a telemarketer, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital due to his diabetes. AR 56. Again, Plaintiff was discharged by his employer. AR 56.

In either 2003 or 2004, Plaintiff worked as a farm equipment operator, where he drove a tractor and hauled dirt to build dairies. AR 77-78. He held this job for five months or more as a full-time employee. AR 78. In performing his job duties, Plaintiff lifted a shovel daily. AR 78.

From 1994 to around 2000, Plaintiff was an assistant manager at Wal-Mart. AR 76-77. During his employment at Wal-Mart, he ordered merchandise, "walked the store," handled customer services duties, and interacted with employees. AR 76. About twice a week he stocked shelves and created store displays. AR 77. Plaintiff lifted 100 pounds during the course of his work. AR 77.

The VE identified plaintiff's past work as an assistant manager, a cashier at a fast food restaurant, a telemarketer, and a farm equipment operator. AR 83. VE Dachelet indicated the assistant manager position is consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"), medium, with an SVP*fn2 of 7, skilled. AR 83. With regard to Plaintiff's prior work as a fast food cashier, it is classified as light and unskilled. AR 83. Plaintiff's prior work as a telemarketer is classified as sedentary, with an SVP of 3, semi-skilled. AR 83. When asked to describe Plaintiff's prior work as a farm equipment operator, the VE noted that the work was performed at the light level but is typically classified as heavy, semi-skilled work with an SVP of 3. AR 83.

VE Dachelet was asked to consider a hypothetical individual of Plaintiff's age, education, and experience. Additionally, the VE was asked to assume the hypothetical worker had a combination of severe impairments and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift and carry fifteen pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently, who can stand, walk and sit for six hours each, in an eight-hour day. AR 83-84. VE Dachelet indicated that such a worker could perform Plaintiff's past work as an assistant manager, cashier, and telemarketer. However, the VE stated that the worker would not be able to perform Plaintiff's past relevant work as a farm equipment operator. AR 84.

Next, VE Dachelet was asked to assume a similar hypothetical worker with the ability to lift and carry fifteen to twenty pounds maximum, and who could stand and walk for one hour maximum, use his hands ten minutes at a time, and who must elevate the feet during the day and be permitted rest breaks totaling four and a half hours. In addition, the worker would need frequent bathroom breaks, averaging eight per hour. In light of those limitations, VE Dachelet indicated the hypothetical worker would be unable to perform any of Plaintiff's past relevant work and the world of work would be closed. AR 84.

Medical Record

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court: AR 224-779. A summary of the relevant medical records is provided below.

Kaweah Delta Health Care District

Plaintiff visited the emergency room complaining of chest pain on September 30, 2005. AR 246. A physical examination and a chest x-ray showed that there was normal cardiac function; there was no acute cardiac disease. AR 254, 260, 262. He again visited the emergency room for chest pain on December 25, 2005, but his cardiovascular physical exam was normal. AR 225, 231.

Tulare District Hospital

Plaintiff arrived at the emergency room complaining of chest pain on October 31, 2004, and was admitted for six days. AR 383-390. An x-ray was performed that showed borderline cardiomegaly and a physical exam revealed regular heart sounds. AR 383. Plaintiff was found to be tachycardic on November 1, 2004, but an echocardiogram was normal. AR 383, 385. His mitral valve was normal with no regurgitation or stenosis, and coronary angiography was recommended to rule out coronary artery disease. AR 389-390.

Plaintiff was hospitalized from February 4, 2005 to February 11, 2005. AR 370. He arrived complaining of chest pain but he was negative for congestive heart failure. AR 370. Plaintiff underwent a cholecystectomy and doctors noted that he was obese. AR 370, 372. On February 8, 2005, a left heart catheterization was performed and it was noted that there was normal cardiac anatomy. AR 504.

A sleep test was performed on April 12, 2005, wherein echocardiogram results were normal. AR 363-364. Plaintiff was found to suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea and obesity. AR 363-364.

Plaintiff again visited the emergency room for chest pain on October 9, 2005, but test results were normal. AR 359. On December 10, 2005, he complained of chest pain, yet no abnormal heart sounds were obtained. AR 351. It was documented that Plaintiff was obese and had persistent cardiomegaly. AR 351, 354. A hospital visit on May 4, 2006, produced a chest xray negative for heart disease. AR 328. A Cardiac Echo Doppler study performed on June 14, 2006, revealed there was no congestive heart failure and there was trace mitral regurgitation without systolic mitral valve prolapse present. AR 320.

On December 14, 2006, Plaintiff again complained of chest pain, but a physical exam revealed normal heart function and further tests were negative for heart disease. AR 303, 307. A computed tomography scan of the chest was performed on December 18, 2006, which showed the heart appeared normal and there was no cardiopulmonary ...

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