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Wilson v. Berryhill

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

July 21, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Charles Joseph Wilson (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claims for disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) & 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

         On May 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Title II period of disability and DIB, as well as an application for Title XVI supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Tr. 184, 188, 212). Plaintiff claimed in these applications that his disability began on May 14, 2013. (Tr. 184, 188, 212). Both applications were initially denied on June 19, 2013. (Tr. 128, 133). On July 10, 2013, Plaintiff submitted a written request for a hearing. (Tr. 140, 142). On July 21, 2014, Plaintiff, a medical expert, and a vocational expert testified before Administrative Law Judge Michael L. Brownfield (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 56). On January 9, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, determining that because Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in the national economy, he was not disabled through the date of the decision, and thus not eligible for benefits. (Tr. 66-67). Subsequently, on June 8, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-4). With administrative appeals exhausted, the ALJ's decision became final and subject to this court's appellate review. (Id.).

         II. Facts

         Plaintiff was forty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 68). He lives with his wife and three year-old daughter in Dora, Alabama, and has two other adult children who live in Illinois. (Tr. 78-79). Plaintiff received a tenth grade education, including some special education, and stated that he received his “high school diploma” through a program that he found “[o]ut of a puzzle book, ” though it was not accepted by the military. (Tr. 80).[1] Plaintiff found employment as a tank cleaner, production line assembler, warehouse worker, and delivery driver. (Tr. 97). Plaintiff was last insured on December 31, 2016 and was last employed in a job banding steel tubes at Independent Tubes in May 2012. (Tr. 86, 213, 237). However, Plaintiff only worked for four days before being terminated due to injuries to his right hand that required a brace. (Tr. 86).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony on His Ailments

         Plaintiff last worked on May 23, 2012, and appears to have been unemployed since that time. (Tr. 86, 217). He claims that he has not been able to work because of disability since May 14, 2013, a date that coincides with his disability application. (Tr. 212-13). Plaintiff claims to suffer from various ailments, including lower back issues, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, and a learning disability. (Id.). Plaintiff has recounted problems with his back, neck, and knees, particularly his left knee. (Tr. 87). During the ALJ hearing, he claimed that he had pain in his lower back that shot down his leg, “like somebody was stabbing [him] with a knife in [his] thigh.” (Id.). Furthermore, he testified that turning his head from side to side bothered his neck due to a nerve issue. (Id.). He recounted that his knee feels like “somebody [was] cutting … my ligaments with a knife, ” and that occasionally it filled with fluid and needed to be drained. (Tr. 88). Overall, Plaintiff rated his pain as eight on a ten point scale. (Id.). Plaintiff stated that his right arm and left knee get swollen often. (Tr. 91). His doctor had been unable to prescribe pain pills, and instead recommended that he take over the counter pain medication. (Tr. 88-89).[2]

         Plaintiff testified that he has issues stooping and tying his shoes. (Tr. 89). Additionally, his right hand often gets cold and numb, making it difficult for him to hold things or drive. (Id.). Although he has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, he testified that he was “afraid of surgery” to treat it. (Id.). He also claims that he is unable to stand in one place for more than five or ten minutes and cannot sit for prolonged periods without moving around a bit. (Tr. 89-90). Plaintiff stated that his wife does pretty much everything around the house, and, though he tries to help out, he spends most of the day in his recliner. (Tr. 90). Plaintiff has tried to mow his small lawn, but claims that it takes him two or three days to complete mowing because he does not “want to try to overdo it.” (Tr. 92). When walking, Plaintiff sometimes experiences a shooting pain in his lower back, especially when he put pressure on the back of his heels. (Tr. 90). He also states that he has trouble sleeping at night because of restlessness and pain. (Tr. 90-91). Plaintiff asserts that his diabetes causes him to get “weak” and “fainty.” (Tr. 91).

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History

         On April 17, 2013, Dr. Scott Boswell of Boswell Family Medicine performed nerve conduction testing[3] on Plaintiff which showed very severe pathology in the right radial nerve, mild pathology in the left radial nerve lateral branch, marked pathology in the right ulnar nerve, moderate pathology in the bilateral radial nerve medial branch, and mild pathology in the left first thoracic nerve. (Tr. 323). This testing also revealed mild irritation in the femoral cutaneous nerve and in the saphenous nerve, moderate pathology in the peroneal nerve, and marked pathology in the bilateral sural nerve. (Tr. 327). Dr. Boswell noted that the test results indicated cervical plexopathy and lumbosacral plexopathy, both without motor deficit. (Tr. 323, 327).

         On May 3, 2013, Dr. Steven Parris conducted MRI imaging of the lumbar spine which showed vertebral body heights and marrow signal to be well-maintained throughout Plaintiff's lumbar spine with overall alignment. (Tr. 302). The MRI showed degenerative dessication and mild annular bulging of the L4-5 disc, along with mild facet arthropathy and moderate foraminal narrowing. (Id.). The MRI also indicated a degenerative mildly bulging disc at ¶ 4-5. (Id.). Furthermore, MRI imaging of the cervical spine showed vertebral body heights, marrow signal, and overall alignment to be well-maintained in Plaintiff's cervical spine. (Tr. 303). Mild bilateral unconvertebral joint hypertrophy was found at discs C3-4, C4-5, and C5-6, but there was no evidence of disc herniation or significant spinal or foraminal stenosis. (Tr. 303, 311).

         On May 14, 2013, Dr. Boswell conducted a follow-up on Plaintiff's cervical and lumbar pain. (Tr. 307-09). Dr. Boswell mentioned that MRI results showed little if any pathology. (Tr. 307). Plaintiff had no headaches, paresthesias, confusion, or gait instability. (Id.). His blood pressure was 142/88. (Tr. 308). His spine was normal without deformity or tenderness. (Id.). He had a normal range of motion in his back, and normal symmetry, tone, strength, and range of motion in his musculoskeletal system (Id.). He had no effusions, instability, tenderness to palpation, or focal deficits, and his gait was within normal limits. (Id.).

         On June 3, 2013, an echocardiogram showed no significant abnormality and a carotid duplex ultrasound was normal. (Tr. 384-85). On January 10, 2014, an MRI of Plaintiff's left knee showed a small radial tear along the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus, small effusion, and mild osteoarthritic change. (Tr. 398). On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff's lungs were clear to auscultation and percussion, his left knee had a passive full range of motion, and his gait was within normal limits. (Tr. 438). On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff complained of constant knee pain and was seen by Dr. Edward Bromberg. (Tr. 399-401). He described the pain as moderate, yet Dr. Bromberg noted a normal neurovascular in the lower left extremity. (Tr. 399-400). On March 10, 2014, Plaintiff was given a follow-up evaluation on his knee pain, again noted to be mild in severity. (Tr. 436-39).

         On May 9, 2014, Plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Alan Blotcky, a psychologist, after complaining of back pain, left leg pain, and depression. (Tr. 368-70). Plaintiff demonstrated logical and orderly thinking, with memory functioning intact, judgment grossly intact, abstract thinking limited, and insight weak. (Tr. 369). He scored 72 on the full-scale Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) and 60 on a global assessment of functioning (GAF) test. (Tr. 369-70). Dr. Blotcky diagnosed Plaintiff with a depressive disorder (Tr. 370), and stated that while Plaintiff was able to manage his financial affairs independently, his intellectual abilities ...

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