United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
CEDRIC T. MONIGAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for disability insurance benefits. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Docs. 16 & 18 ("In accordance with provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States magistrate judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, ... order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.").) Upon consideration of the administrative record, plaintiff's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and the arguments of counsel at the October 9, 2014 hearing before the Court, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.
Plaintiff alleges disability due to hypertension, sleep apnea, posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, GERD, degenerative disc disease of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines, and degenerative joint disease of the right knee. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in SGA since June 23, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: hypertension; sleep apnea; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); major depressive disorder; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); degenerative disc disease (DDD. the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine; and degenerative joint disease (DJD. the right knee (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except no overhead reaching; no operation of foot controls; no climbing ladders, scaffolds, or ropes; no crawling, kneeling, or work around unprotected heights and dangerous equipment; occasional climbing stairs and ramps, balancing, stooping, and crouching; no work in crowds; and no more than occasional contact with coworkers and the public, and that contact should be limited to superficial contact.
In making this finding, I have considered all symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence, based on the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1529 and SSRs 96-4p and 96-7p. I have also considered opinion evidence in accordance with the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1527 and SSRs 96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p and 06-3p.
In considering the claimant's symptoms, I must follow a two-step process in which it must first be determined whether there is an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s)-i.e., an impairment(s) that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques-that could reasonably be expected to produce the claimant's pain or other symptoms.
Second, once an underlying physical or mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce the claimant's pain or other symptoms has been shown, I must evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the claimant's symptoms to determine the extent to which they limit the claimant's functioning. For this purpose, whenever statements about the intensity, persistence, or functionally limiting effects of pain or other symptoms are not substantiated by objective medical evidence, I must make a finding on the credibility of the statements based on a consideration of the entire case record.
The claimant alleges that he is disabled due to neck and lower back pain with radiculopathy, right knee pain and limited flexion, fatigue and breathing problems from sleep apnea, and social difficulties from PTSD and depression. He does no housework and cannot bend over in cramped places, squat, or run. His hands tingle, and he has lost grip strength. He can only lift five to eight pounds, sit for 40 to 60 minutes, stand for 15 to 30 minutes, and walk one to one and a half blocks. He is divorced and no longer sees eye-to-eye with his adult son, lost his wife and child due to agitation and moodiness, has no social skills, frequently gets in conflicts, sometimes has difficulty being around groups of people, becomes agitated and sweaty when outside his "comfort zone, " no longer attends church, and has lost interest in attending basketball games. He takes Lortab three to four times a day, uses a knee brace that cuts off his circulation, uses a back brace that suffocates him, and lies down in a positioning device for his DDD. He goes to group and individual counseling and takes two psychotropic medications. The counseling and psychotropic medications seem to help, but the medications make him "kind of squirrely."
After careful consideration of the evidence, I find that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this decision.
The medical evidence of record documents the claimant's treatment since the alleged onset date for DJD of the right knee and DD. the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. He has complained of neck pain and tenderness, left-sided cervical radiculopathy, lower back pain, lumbar radiculopathy, right knee pain, and a sense that the right knee might "give way". However, he has also denied gait disturbance and weakness and numbness in the extremities.
The claimant's painful neck range of motion, somewhat decreased strength in the upper extremities, decreased deep tendon reflexes in the upper extremities, decreased sensation in the left upper extremity, absent deep tendon reflexes in the lower extremities, and decreased sensation in the left lower extremity have been noted on physical examination. However, his mostly normal neck range of motion; normal strength and muscle bulk and tone; normal range of motion and muscle strength and stability in the extremities; normal right knee range of motion; and ability to toe, heel, and tandem walk have also been noted.
On May 4, 2011, x-rays showed moderate tri[-]compartmental degenerative changes of the claimant's right knee. On May 15, 2012, x-rays of the right knee showed advanced degenerative changes with joint space narrowing and osteoarthritic spurring most pronounced at the medial joint compartment with near bone-to-bone contact. X-rays of the lumbar spine showed degenerative changes with disc space narrowing at L5-S1. On July 12, 2012, a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) of the cervical spine showed mild DDD at C3-4 resulting in mild central spinal canal stenosis, mild DDD at C4-5 resulting in mild central spinal canal stenosis an mild neural foraminal narrowing, eccentric disc bulging at C5-6 resulting in mild central spinal canal stenosis and severe narrowing of the left neural foramen, and mild DDD at C6-7 resulting in mild bilateral neural foraminal narrowing. A MRI of the thoracic spine showed a small right paracentral focal disc herniation at T5-6 resulting in mild central spinal canal stenosis and T7-8 mild broad-based disc bulging resulting in mild central spinal canal stenosis. On July 24, 2012, the results of an electromyogram and nerve conduction study of the upper extremities were normal.
Prior to the alleged onset date, the claimant underwent a lumbar decompression and microdiscectomy procedure and multiple surgeries on his right knee. Since the alleged onset, his musculoskeletal impairments have been treated with physical therapy, a cervical traction unit, a spinal orthotic device, and oral muscle relaxant and pain medications.
The claimant has been treated for sleep apnea since the alleged onset date. He has complained of tiredness and fatigue due to poor sleep from sleep hypoxia. He uses a continuous positive airway pressure machine.
The claimant has been treated for hypertension since the alleged onset date. His elevated blood pressure has been noted on examination. However, his normal blood pressure has also been noted. He has been prescribed antihypertensive and calcium channel blocker medications.
The claimant has a history of GERD. On January 31, 2011, a barium swallow esophagram showed a small sliding-type hiatal hernia with a small amount of gastroesophageal reflux. Since the alleged onset date, his GERD ...