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Humphrey v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

August 18, 2014

RYAN M. HUMPHREY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ryan Humphrey brings this action pursuant to Title II of Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), seeking review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). See also 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). Based on the court's review of the record and briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision of the ALJ is due to be affirmed.

I. PROCEEDINGS BELOW

Plaintiff filed for disability and DIB on October 20, 2009 alleging a disability onset date of August 10, 2009. (Tr. 114-16). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on December 9, 2009. (Tr. 73). Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before ALJ Jerome L. Munford on November 9, 2011. (Tr. 36-72, 80-81).[1] In his decision, dated January 26, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Act since October 20, 2009, the date of Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 32). After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1), that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner and therefore a proper subject of this court's appellate review.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-nine years old and had a twelfth-grade education. (Tr. 30, 42, 114). Plaintiff reported pinched nerves, a herniated disc in his neck, a slipped disc in his back, and arthritis as limiting his ability to work. (Tr. 137). Plaintiff further alleged that he experiences migraines which he claims "pretty much incapacitate [him]." (Tr. 50).

With regard to his domestic life, Plaintiff reported to the ALJ the following when asked what he did with himself all day: "basically... [I] would be getting up, get something to drink, go sit in the recliner.... It's just watch TV is about the only thing I really have to do." (Tr. 59-60). Plaintiff explained to the ALJ that his pain has prevented him from attempting to return to work since 2009, and that he spends anywhere from seven to ten hours per day in his recliner. (Tr. 46, 54). Plaintiff reports that his pain is more severe while sitting, that driving is extremely painful, and that simply walking to the mailbox is a daily challenge. (Tr. 44-45). Plaintiff further reported that the most weight he might be able to lift and carry was "probably like a gallon of milk." (Tr. 45).

Plaintiff has performed past relevant work as a helper/assistant, cashier, clerical worker, and, most recently, as a pizza delivery driver. (Tr. 57-59). Plaintiff's work activities included assisting technicians, hauling equipment from one location to another, and running a cash register; however, Plaintiff reported that "[d]elivery is probably the majority of it." ( Id. ). While working as a helper/assistant, Plaintiff claims that he was required to do "nothing strenuous, " and that he "was basically just a go for helper, go get this box, you know, haul this or something like that." (Tr. 57-58). As a cashier/clerk, Plaintiff would sit or stand behind a desk or assist in moving equipment from one location to another. (Tr. 58). Plaintiff alleges that he has "a lot of trouble with sitting or standing or laying" and that sitting for thirty minutes would be "probably like a marathon for me." (Tr. 42, 44, 137). Specifically, Plaintiff reports that he experiences extreme pain while sitting because sitting "push[es] up on my spine... causing pinched nerves to pinch a little harder."[2] (Tr. 44).

During his reported period of disability, Plaintiff was first seen by Dr. Wilcox, Jr. on August 10, 2009; Plaintiff chiefly complained of pain in his neck and lower back. (Tr. 162-63).[3] Dr. Wilcox diagnosed Plaintiff with sciatica and cervical spasms, prescribed him Soma, Vicodin and Dexamethasone, and referred him to Dr. Upadhyey for pain management. (Tr. 163). The medical evidence of record indicates that Plaintiff was treated by McClellan Family Chiropractic on at least one occasion during his alleged period of disability. (Tr. 164-65).

Next, from March 2, 2010 through April 26, 2010, Plaintiff was treated by Northeast Orthopedic Clinic. (Tr. 181-89). After examining an MRI of Plaintiff's spine, Northeast Orthopedics diagnosed Plaintiff with "minor disc bulges at a couple of levels that don't produce significant neurologic compromise, " as well as "mild scoliosis;" however, the treating physician noted that, "[a]t this point I don't have a reason for all the discomfort he describes." (Tr. 182).[4] Plaintiff was also treated for spinal pain at Knighten Family Chiropractic from January 20, 2011 through August 12, 2011; medical records indicate that, during Plaintiff's last visit to Knighten, his complaints of pain were "an exacerbation of his neck and mid back problems." (Tr. 191).

A consultative examination ("CE") was performed on June 18, 2011 by Dr. Sathyan V. Iyer. (Tr. 169). Dr. Iyer performed a musculoskeletal examination and medical source opinion as requested by Disability Determination Service. (Tr. 170). Dr. Iyer took into consideration Plaintiff's complaints of neck and back pain, his past physical therapy and chiropractic treatment, his MRI scan, numbness present in his extremities, his weak grip strength, and his pain management referral when diagnosing Plaintiff for disability determination. ( Id. ). After performing diagnostics on Plaintiff, Dr. Iyer stated, "In his current condition, he may have some impairment of functions involving bending, lifting, and overhead activities. He does not have limitation of functions involving sitting, standing, walking, handling, hearing, or speaking." (Tr. 172).[5] The CE indicated that Plaintiff could frequently lift up to 10 pounds and could occasionally lift from 11 to 20 pounds; further, the CE indicated that Plaintiff could frequently carry up to 10 pounds and could occasionally carry from 11 to 20 pounds. (Tr. 175). Dr. Iyer found Plaintiff capable of walking, sitting, and standing, for one hour at one time without interruption. (Tr. 176). Plaintiff was also found to be capable of walking, sitting, and standing for a total of four hours in an eight hour work day. ( Id. ). Finally, the CE indicated that the limitations found to affect Plaintiff have lasted or would last for twelve consecutive months.[6] (Tr. 180).

Toward the end of Plaintiff's hearing, the ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the Vocational Expert ("VE"). (Tr. 63). The ALJ asked if a "younger individual who has a high school education, three quarter years of college" could:

occasionally bend, stoop, crouch, or twist. No left upper or lower pushing and/or pulling. I'm going to say no driving. No climbing. Those are the restrictions that I want you to consider at this point. Set aside for a moment this gentleman's past relevant work, which you've identified previously as being performed at the light exertional range and tell me whether or not in your opinion if there would be any other light work opportunities that you believe the [Plaintiff] could perform, please.

(Tr. 63-64). The VE responded to the ALJ's question by stating that, "[y]es, Your Honor, there would be. At the light level, samples would be reception work, "[7] "unskilled general clerical work, "[8] and work as a "cashier."[9] (Tr. 64). The ALJ posited a second hypothetical question for the VE: "Let's go back to Mr. Humphrey's past relevant work as you've described it. As I have detailed him, would he be capable of returning to any of his past relevant work activity or activities, please?" (Tr. 65). The VE responded, "[a]s a General helper at the pet store in sales, yes. And at Timberlake as the Clerical Worker, yes." ( Id. ). Next, the ALJ asked "[s]o he could go back to the Clerical Worker position, which you mentioned was at sedentary and there's a clerk position that you believe he could go back to, Ms. Jacobson, as I've described them?" ( Id. ). The VE responded affirmatively. ( Id. ). The ALJ then posed another hypothetical question, this time asking the VE to "consider that I determine Mr. Humphrey can do no bending, that's the only change, but he can still occasionally stoop, crouch, or twist, but no bending... would he still be able to do the sedentary examples of jobs that you mentioned, please?" (Tr. 66). Again, the VE responded affirmatively. (Tr. 66). Next, the VE inquired:

If I determine in any of the scenarios positive that the claimant experiences a degree of moderately severe to severe pain with attended moderately severe to severe limitations on his ability for concentrating, heavier requisite pace and persistence that's required to perform ordinary ...

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