United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
HARWELL G. DAVIS, III, Magistrate Judge.
The parties have filed written consent and this action has been assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. ( See Doc. 13). Plaintiff, Jason Adams, filed an application for disability benefits on July 6, 2010. He also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income that same date. These claims were initially denied on October 19, 2010. Mr. Adams filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). He appeared and testified at a hearing on November 17, 2011. Supplemental hearings were also held on March 21 and July 6, 2012. Plaintiff was represented by attorney Don Bevill in these proceedings.
On August 10, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. Plaintiff requested further review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Counsel denied plaintiff's request for review on August 27, 2013. This case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Upon consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed and this action dismissed.
I. ALJ Decision
Disability under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). "Substantial work activity" is work that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). "Gainful work activity" is work that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or a combination of medical impairments that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may not claim disability. Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. If such criteria are met, the claimant is declared disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If the claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ may still find disability under the next two steps of the analysis. The ALJ first must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which refers to the claimant's ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is determined to be capable of performing past relevant work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id. If the ALJ finds that the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). In the last part of the analysis, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to perform any other work commensurate with his RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the ALJ to prove the existence in significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can do given the RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 404.1560(c).
At the time of the ALJ's decision, plaintiff was 32 years old. (Tr. 259, 263). He has a high school education and past relevant work as a logger, construction laborer and landscape laborer. (Tr. 20, 45, 271-74, 295-97). He alleges the onset date of his disability to have been September 1, 2009. (Tr. 259, 263). Plaintiff is 6' tall and weighs 263 pounds.
The ALJ found that plaintiff has the severe impairments of bipolar I disorder, opioid dependence with recurrent abuse, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (Tr. 11). He also has a number of non-severe impairments. (Tr. 11-14).
The ALJ also found that plaintiff did not suffer from certain impairments that he claimed. For instance, plaintiff alleged that he had considerable limitations associated with congestive heart failure that he alleges he was diagnosed in 2008. However, at his September 2010 claims-related consultative examination, he admitted to the examiner, Dr. Samia Moizauddin, M.D., that he has had numerous cardiac evaluations, including cardiac catheterization, and that all results had been normal. (Ex. 5F).
Plaintiff also alleged that he suffers from severe headaches. In October 2011, he saw Dr. Lorn Miller, M.D., a neurology consultant, for evaluation of severe headaches with associated photophobia, phonophobis, osmophobia, nausea and vomiting. (Ex. 13F). He told Dr. Miller that he had headaches with photophobia and phonophobia as a teenager but that they occurred infrequently and were relieved with Tylenol until age 21 when a tree fell on his head (in late 2000 or 2001). He reported that he had been having headaches three to four times a week since the head injury with no change in severity or frequency and that only Lortab was of any help.
The ALJ found that there was no evidence in plaintiff's medical records to support those reports. The ALJ noted that plaintiff did not report a history of migraines or severe headaches when he saw Dr. Moizuddin in September 2010. (Ex. 5F). Also, the ALJ stated that plaintiff has been seeing his primary care physician, Dr. Brasfield, once a month on average, since April 2007, and has consistently denied headaches at those visits. Furthermore, the medical history of plaintiff as documented by his primary care physician's records do not include migraine headaches.
Plaintiff also reported to having seizures since a head injury he suffered in 1998, 2000 or 2001, in either, depending upon the account, a logging accident or a motor vehicle accident. At his October 2011 neurology evaluation, plaintiff told Dr. Miller that he began having seizures a short time after he sustained a severe head injury from the falling trees. He also told Dr. Miller that he had three or four seizures per year with the last one occurring in August 2011. However, in a report to emergency room personnel in July 2010, plaintiff stated that he had not had a seizure since 2003. However, his testimony in this case is that he is currently suffering two grand mal seizures a month. (Tr. 13). Furthermore, he advised Dr. Miller that he was given Depakote for the seizures when they began, that he has taken the same 125 mg. dosage, that this medicine manages the seizures well, and that he did not want any other seizure medications. (Tr. 13).
Dr. Brasfield's records reflect no reported history of seizure disorder and no reports of seizure activity. Despite his claim of having been on Dekapote for over five years, records reflect that plaintiff was not prescribed Dekapote until October 10, 2010, just ten days before he saw Dr. Miller. His psychiatrist, Dr. Armand Schachter, M.D., prescribed the medication to plaintiff in answer to plaintiff's complaints of increased bipolar symptoms, not for seizures. The ALJ concluded that the record evidence failed to establish this as a medically determinable seizure disorder. (Tr. 13).
At the hearing, plaintiff also claimed that he was being treated for schizophrenia. The ALJ found that the record evidence also failed to support this claim. The ALJ noted that plaintiff has been treated at the Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center off and on since 2003 and that those records reflect no diagnosis of schizophrenia. Likewise, plaintiff has been evaluated by a number of other mental health professionals outside the Mental Health Center, and there is no evidence that any of the examiners has observed any signs suggestive of ...