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Hydorn v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 4, 2014

EUGENE F. HYDORN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


H. RUSSEL HOLLAND, District Judge.

This is an action for judicial review of the denial of disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 401-434, 1381-1383f. Plaintiff has timely filed his opening brief, [1] to which defendant has responded.[2] Oral argument was requested but is not deemed necessary.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff is Eugene F. Hydorn. Defendant is Carolyn W. Colvin, acting Commissioner of Social Security.

On May 18, 2010, plaintiff filed applications for disability benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging that he became disabled on August 1, 2009. Plaintiff alleged that he was disabled because of bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, emphysema, and migraines. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing on March 12, 2012, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied plaintiff's claim. On March 21, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's April 5, 2012 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On May 20, 2013 plaintiff commenced this action in which he asks the court to find that he is entitled to disability benefits.

General Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on February 9, 1975. Plaintiff was 37 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. Plaintiff has a ninth-grade education. His past relevant work includes work as a fast food worker, delivery driver, furniture installer, and warehouse worker.

The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ first determined that plaintiff met "the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012."[3]

The ALJ then applied the five-step sequential analysis used to determine whether an individual is disabled.[4]

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had "not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2009, the alleged onset date...."[5]

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had "the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/asthma with cystic disease of the lungs, lumbar degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, status post hernia repair, migraines, and history of drug addiction and alcoholism...."[6]

At step three, the ALJ found that "[t]he severity of [plaintiff's] impairments whether considered singly or in combination does not meet or equal the criteria in any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1...."[7] The ALJ considered Listings 1.00 (muscoskeletal system), 3.00 (respiratory system), 11.00 (neurological), and 12.00 (mental disorders).[8] The ALJ found that plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet listings 12.04 (affective disorders) or 12.09 (substance addiction disorders).[9]

The ALJ considered the paragraph "B" criteria and found that plaintiff had moderate restrictions in activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in social functioning; moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace; and no episodes of decompensation that had been of extended duration.[10] In making the determinations as to the paragraph "B" criteria, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of Dr. Barrons[11] and Dr. Downs[12] because they were "consistent with the treatment record and with the record of the claimant's daily activities."[13]

"Between steps three and four, the ALJ must, as an intermediate step, assess the claimant's RFC." Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin. , 554 F.3d 1219, 1222-23 (9th Cir. 2009). The ALJ found that plaintiff

has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the following: frequently climb ramps or stairs but never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, or humidity, environmental irritants (such as fumes, odors, dusts and gases), poorly ventilated areas, use of moving machinery, and exposure to unprotected heights. The claimant is limited to simple, routine, tasks with only occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervi-sors. The claimant would need to be employed in a low stress job defined as a job where only simple decisions are being made with only occasional changes in the work setting and no fast-paced production rate requirements.[14]

The ALJ found that plaintiff's "statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [his alleged] symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the above residual functional capacity assessment."[15] The ALJ found plaintiff's statements less than credible because plaintiff "described daily activities that are not limited to the extent one would expect, given the complaints of disabling symptoms and limitations."[16] The ALJ noted that plaintiff reported that he "mows the lawn, mops, sweeps, does laundry, straightens his home, drives, uses public transportation, shops, pays bills and manages money, prepares simple meals, visits his neighbor, reads the newspaper, and watches television...."[17] The ALJ also noted that "[t]he record... indicates that plaintiff is well enough to travel...."[18]

The ALJ found plaintiff's symptom statements regarding his mental impairments less than credible because the medication that has been prescribed has "been relatively effective in controlling [his] symptoms[;]" because although plaintiff has not always been compliant in taking his medications, his "condition did not significant[ly] deteriorate, which suggests that [plaintiff's] impairments are not as severe as he has alleged[;]" and because his statements were inconsistent with the medical record.[19]

The ALJ found plaintiff's statements regarding his physical impairments less than credible because plaintiff's treatment had been conservative; there were gaps in his treatment; and his statements were inconsistent with the medical record.[20] The ALJ noted that plaintiff's migraines were controlled by over-the-counter medication and that he continued to smoke despite his COPD; that plaintiff had a "poor performance on pulmonary function testing in May 2010, which further diminishes his credibility regarding his allegations[;]" and that there was no evidence in the treatment records to support plaintiff's "testimony of hand numbness that causes him to drop items."[21]

The ALJ also appeared to find plaintiff's pain and symptom statements less than credible because the record showed evidence of narcotic-seeking behavior.[22]

In assessing plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ gave significant weight to the opinion of Dr. Orenstein.[23] The ALJ gave less weight to Dr. Schenk's opinion.[24] The ALJ considered Dr. Barrons'[25] and Dr. Downs'[26] opinions, but, the ALJ did not assign any specific weight to them.[27] The ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Geary's[28] opinion as well as Dr. Semino's opinion.[29] The ALJ gave little weight to the ...

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