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Taylor v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 25, 2016

SCOTT TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         In this social security appeal, plaintiff appeals the denial of disability benefits. For the reasons stated below, plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is Granted, and defendant’s motion for summary judgment is Denied.


         1. Procedural History.

         Plaintiff Scott Taylor applied for disability insurance benefits in April 2013, alleging he was unable to work due to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, migraines, Kienböck’s disease, herniated and bulged discs in his lower back and neck, cervical lordosis, sleep apnea, temporomandibular joint disorder, sinusitis, rhinitis, avascular necrosis of the wrist, and synovitis of the posterior (AR 100). Taylor is insured through December 31, 2017.[*] His application was denied both initially and upon reconsideration (AR 126, 135).

         In September 2014, Taylor had a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Judson Scott (AR 31-99), who found that plaintiff was not disabled (AR 8-24). In February 2015, the appeals council denied Taylor’s request for administrative review (AR 1). Taylor filed the instant action in April 2015, seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g). The parties now make cross-motions for summary judgment. This order follows full briefing.

         2. Claimant Testimony.

         At the hearing before Judge Scott, Taylor testified that he had neck and back issues, left wrist and ankle problems, sleep apnea, herniated discs, migraines, and PTSD - all of which limited his ability to work. Taylor described some of his physical limitations, including wrist, hand, and knee problems. Before Taylor moved to California, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) recommended transplanting a piece of his knee into his wrist. Taylor testified, however, that his anxiety prevented him from undergoing general anesthesia. He stated that after he retired from the Navy, he worked as a bed-bug hunter. But, Taylor’s physical impairments forced him to stop working altogether in 2013. Taylor also stated that although he has a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for his sleep apnea, he often removes it unconsciously in the middle of the night.

         Despite psychological treatment and attendance at group therapy sessions every week, Taylor did not feel he was getting better. He moved into his RV after his wife asked him to move out. Taylor also said that he struggled to socialize and became irritable on bad days.

         3. Medical Evidence.

         Judge Scott summarized the medical evidence in his decision (AR 17-20). This order will also briefly summarize the over two thousand pages of medical records. Taylor has been treated for a myriad of physical ailments. Kienböck’s disease, a condition that interrupts the blood supply to a small bone in the wrist, is well documented in Taylor’s records. A letter from Dr. Scott Levin, an orthopedic surgeon at HUP, diagnosed Taylor with “significant Kienbock’s [sic] probably stage III” in August 2012. In the letter, Dr. Levin recommended surgery as medically necessary to correct the resulting discomfort and decreased range of motion (AR 1500). Taylor has not obtained the surgery due to his anxiety. Another orthopedic surgeon at HUP, Dr. Ernest Gentchos, also recommended surgery for Taylor’s left foot in October 2012. At an exam, Taylor labored to complete more than four left “heel rises.” Dr. Gentchos noted tenderness of the posterior tibial tendon, medial malleolus, and tarsal navicular bone (AR 2119). As to Taylor’s back pain, diagnostic imaging from August 2011 revealed “loss of cervical lordosis, ” shallow centered disc protrusion, and bulging annulus (AR 2097-98). Notes throughout Taylor’s medical record indicate that he consistently complained of back pain. But, as noted by Judge Scott, Taylor reported no back pain in June 2014 (AR 2284). Finally, the record documents Taylor’s sleep apnea and chronic migraines. Positive sleep study findings suggest that Taylor’s sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP machine (AR 2099-110). Taylor admitted that the machine provides some relief when he does not inadvertently remove it in his sleep (AR 49-50). Despite taking his prescribed migraine medication, Taylor testified that he continues to suffer three to five migraines per week. The medical records also trace Taylor’s ongoing mental health issues. Taylor’s treatment includes psychotropic medication and group therapy. Doctors repeatedly diagnosed Taylor with anxiety disorder and PTSD. Taylor has also been diagnosed with adjustment disorder and cognitive disorder. Two of Taylor’s treating physicians completed mental health impairment questionnaires in July 2014. The physicians opined that Taylor could not meet various competitive standards and faced various limitations. One physician stated that Taylor had experienced three episodes of decompensation (an exacerbation or temporary increase in symptoms and loss of adaptive functioning lasting at least two weeks) (Exh. 39). The other stated that a minimal increase in mental demands or change in environment would cause Taylor to decompensate (Exh. 38).


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