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Riggins v. Colvin

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

August 19, 2014

PAUL EUGENE RIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.

Plaintiff Paul Riggins brings this action pursuant to Title II of Section 205(g) and Title XVI of Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See also, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 405(g) and 1383(c). Based on the court's review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.

I. Proceedings Below

Plaintiff filed for disability, DIB, and SSI on April 23, 2012, [1] and alleged an onset date of disability of January 1, 2008.[2] (Tr. 17, 230). Plaintiff's applications were denied on June 28, 2012. (Tr. 156-160, 230). Plaintiff then requested (Tr. 166-167), and received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge William F. Taylor ("ALJ") on March 11, 2013. (Tr. 70-85). In his decision dated March 29, 2013, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act since October 19, 2011, Plaintiff's amended onset date of disability. (Tr. 228). After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-4), 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 forty-five (45) years old and had a seventh grade special education. (Tr. 24). Plaintiff suffers from cervical degenerative disc disease, third degree burns, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease ("COPD"), anxiety, depression, and Paranoid Schizophrenia. (Tr. 242).

With regard to his domestic life, Plaintiff reported his daily routine includes going outside three to four times each day to sit on the porch, stands outside, but for no more than fifteen minutes, sits in a chair, and then heads inside to lie on the couch. (Tr. 259, 261-262). Plaintiff also reported he goes to the store, but can only shop for five minutes because he cannot tolerate being around people. (Tr. 262). Plaintiff claims he mows the lawn, which takes three to four hours, and prepares meals for himself. (Tr. 261). When asked about his hobbies, Plaintiff reported he watches television all day and "plays ball." (Tr. 263). Plaintiff wears glasses because his left eye "goes where it wants" and he often closes it to avoid seeing double. (Tr. 265). Plaintiff has been prescribed several medications - including Prozac, sleeping pills, and Neurontin - but states he cannot afford the medicines. (Tr. 79).

Plaintiff has past relevant work as a tractor-trailer truck driver. That job required medium demands. A tractor-trailer truck driver position is considered to be a semi-skilled job. (Tr. 76). Plaintiff has not worked in that field in several years due to his COPD, neck and back pain, and because he continuously "falls out of his truck." (Tr. 75).

Prior to his alleged period of disability, in 2005, Plaintiff had surgery on his spine performed by Dr. Joel D. Pickett. On October 30, 2006, Dr. Pickett examined Plaintiff because he had been experiencing back, hip, and leg pain for six weeks. (Tr. 326). Dr. Pickett found mild degenerative changes at L5-S1, but no evidence of nerve root compression. (Tr. 329). Dr. Pickett noted that Plaintiff's condition did not require surgery, and recommended he go to physical therapy three times each week, for four weeks. (Tr. 330). The record shows Plaintiff has not seen Dr. Pickett since 2006. (Tr. 403). In order to control his pain, Plaintiff was seen at the Central North Alabama Health Services in Huntsville, Alabama, where he was prescribed 5mg of Lortab, twice each day. (Tr. 403).

Plaintiff next presented to the Central North Alabama Health Services on October 11, 2011, complaining of headaches, vertigo, and muscle spasms. (Tr. 355). He was again prescribed pain medication. (Tr. 355). He returned on October 18, 2011, and again complained of headaches and neck pain. (Tr. 354). Plaintiff was prescribed Ativan, Flexeril, Ultram, and Mobic (Tr. 354).

The following day, October 19, 2011, the alleged onset date of Plaintiff's disability, Plaintiff was treated in the Intensive Care Unit at the Crestwood Medical Center in Huntsville and admitted due to an overdose of prescription drugs. (Tr. 363). Dr. Rodney Morris noted Plaintiff's family stated he was under a lot of stress and they were concerned he was trying to kill himself. Plaintiff denied suicidal intentions and said he suffered from an accidental overdose. (Tr. 363). Dr. Morris reported no hallucinations or delusions and no homicidal ideations. (Tr. 363). Plaintiff was diagnosed with depressive disorder, adjustment disorder, and severe psychological stressors. Dr. Morris's assessment was that this was a suicide attempt by overdosing on prescription medication. (Tr. 368).

On October 21, 2011, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Roza B. Cieszkowski at the Crestwood Medical Center. Dr. Cieszkowski reported Plaintiff did overdose, "because he wasn't sure if he wanted to go on like this" finding him "hopeless and helpless." (Tr. 370). Plaintiff disclosed he previously tried to overdose on aspirin in 1991. (Tr. 370). Plaintiff was admitted to the Crestwood Behavioral Unit where he was given medication. (Tr. 372). Dr. Cieszkowski diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and assigned him a GAF score of fifty-five (55). (Tr. 371). However, Dr. Ciezkowski did report Plaintiff was improving and no longer had suicidal thoughts. (Tr. 372). Plaintiff was discharged on October 24, 2011. (Tr. 372).

On November 30, 2011 Plaintiff was seen at the Mental Health Center of Madison County. Plaintiff reported he was overwhelmed, unable to sleep, tearful, experiencing hallucinations, and felt worthless. (Tr. 387). Plaintiff disclosed his brother had been burned in a trailer, and he was left to fend for himself at fifteen years of age. (Tr. 387). Plaintiff's goal at this time was to function better and take care of himself. (Tr. 432).

On March 27, 2012 Plaintiff saw Dr. Alan Piha at the Mental Health Center of Madison County. (Tr. 378). Plaintiff stated he had improved in regard to depression, but hated getting out in public more than fifteen to twenty minutes. (Tr. 378). Plaintiff reported a lot of pain in his left side. (Tr. 378). Dr. Piha noted major depression and planned an extended visit to discuss medical options due to his weight and financial situation. (Tr. 421). Plaintiff continued to be evaluated and treated by the Mental Health Center of Madison County. (Tr. 418).

On June 19, 2012, Plaintiff was examined by Jon G. Rogers, Ph.D., consultatively on behalf of the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 395). Plaintiff reported to Dr. Rogers he had depressed mood, insomnia, feels worthless and hopeless, wants to be by himself, and experienced fits of anger. Plaintiff complained of pain from past injuries (such as burns), degenerative disc disease, and COPD, and reported smoking two or more packs of cigarettes daily. (Tr. 395-396). Dr. Rogers found Plaintiff capable of functioning independently, but his daily activities below average. (Tr. 398). (Tr. 401). The doctor diagnosed Plaintiff with pain disorder associated with psychological factors, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, COPD, and degenerative disc disorder. (Tr. 399). Dr. Rogers noted ...


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