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Findley v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 28, 2019

STEVEN LEE FINDLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT

          BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Steven Lee Findley (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II 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 Barbara A.

         McAuliffe.[2]

         Having considered the briefing and record in this matter, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to be supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and based upon proper legal standards. Accordingly, this Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits.

         FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on August 27, 2014. AR 147-53.[3] Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on October 4, 2013, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”), emphysema, depression, anxiety, learning/memory problems, back pain and alcoholism. AR 169, 172. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 81-85, 87-91. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. ALJ Vincent A. Misenti held a hearing on September 21, 2016, and issued an order denying benefits on November 19, 2016. AR 7-26, 27-60. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-5. This appeal followed.

         Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ held a hearing on September 21, 2016, in Stockton, California. Plaintiff appeared in Fresno by video with his attorney, Jonathan Pena. Impartial Vocational Expert (“VE”) Judith Najarian also appeared. AR 27, 29.

         In response to questioning by the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that he was 59 years of age with a high school diploma. Plaintiff confirmed his alleged onset date of October 4, 2013. When asked why he stopped working, Plaintiff testified that he was dismissed. He believed it was because his conditions and issues were affecting his job. When asked about his diagnosed impairments, Plaintiff reported that he has COPD, emphysema, arthritis in his lower back, and nervous anxiety. AR 30-32.

         When asked about COPD symptoms, Plaintiff reported that he has shortness of breath, if he exerts himself, stands up quickly or walks too far. He also has severe pain in his chest, with coughing and wheezing. He takes asthma medication and has a rescue inhaler, but does not use oxygen or a breathing machine. He explained that environmental irritants, such as the Fresno air, triggers his COPD. AR 33-37.

         When asked about his history of smoking, Plaintiff testified that he started smoking when he was about 9 or 10 years old. He has a strong addiction and has yet to quit, but has been cutting down significantly. He is down to eight or ten cigarettes per day from about three packs per day. He confirmed it was probably the major reason for his COPD. AR 35.

         When asked about his history of alcoholism, Plaintiff testified that it is very serious. When he drinks, he tends to drink to the point of hospitalization. He has been through AA, programs at the VA and the Salvation Army program. He has knowledge of the disease and maintains his sobriety by going to AA and a VA support group. As of the date of the hearing, he had been sober for two years and one month. AR 35-36.

         When asked about his back pain, Plaintiff testified that it is a nagging pain in his lower back that he attributes to arthritis. He has had back problems ever since he could remember, but it has worsened. At his last job, he had a hard time sitting in his truck too long. He would have to get out and walk around. He has no other symptoms with his back, such as tenderness. He takes a non-narcotic medication for the pain, which helps. He also attended physical therapy and had home exercises, but it hurt more than it helped, so he stopped. He has not had any injections or surgeries for his back. AR 37-39.

         When asked about his abilities. Plaintiff reported that he could sit no more than 45 minutes or an hour and stand no more than 45 minutes or an hour. He can walk about two blocks and can lift no more than 15 pounds. AR 39. When asked about daily activities, Plaintiff testified that he does dishes, cooks simple meals, cleans, and does laundry. He can take care of everything, but in a slower fashion. When asked about outside activities, Plaintiff testified that he goes grocery shopping, pays bills, gets his car serviced and sometimes drives up into the hills to get away. He tries to keep as busy and as active as he can. He likes to do car models and watch TV. AR 40-41.

         When asked what would prevent him from doing his last job as a driver, Plaintiff reported that the main reason was his back. He cannot sit in a truck for too long. He reported that his COPD did not begin to hamper his job in the last two or three years. AR41- 43.

         When asked about his drinking, Plaintiff reported that he began binge drinking around 1990. He managed to maintain work because the company changed hands several times. He would sometimes miss work for a whole month. He does not have a history of DUIs, receiving only one in 1995. After that, he would not get in a car if he binged. AR 43-44.

         When asked about medications, Plaintiff testified that he takes Tramadol about four times a day if his back is hurting. If it is not as bad, he will take Naprosyn. Tramadol is a stronger medication. After taking medications, his back pain would be about seven out of ten. AR 44-45.

         When asked about mental disorders or impairments, Plaintiff reported that he has a comprehension problem and cannot learn. AR 45. He also has an anxiety problem for which he takes medication and sees a psychiatrist every four months. AR 46.

         In response to questions from his attorney, Plaintiff testified that he received equipment from the VA, including a TENS unit, a chamber for his inhaler and a Nebulizer machine that helps with his COPD. AR 47-48. Plaintiff further testified that he has been issued a walker with a seat, which would arrive in a few days, to assist him with walking long distances or standing. He does not use any other assistive devices, such as a shower chair. AR 48-49.

         When asked about his prior job, Plaintiff testified that he could drive about an hour before he had to stop to take a break. He would pull over to the side of the road, stand outside the truck and walk around for about 15-20 minutes. In ...


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