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Daniels v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, District of Arizona

April 2, 2015

DANA H. DANIELS, Plaintiff,


H. Russel Holland, United States District Judge

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

Procedural Background

Plaintiff is Dana H. Daniels. Defendant is the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

On November 15, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on September 5, 2009. Plaintiff alleged that he is disabled due to cerebral and cerebellar atrophy and a left dislocated sacroiliac joint. Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing on July 27, 2012, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied plaintiff’s claim. On February 27, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review, thereby making the ALJ’s October 26, 2012 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The Appeals Council considered new evidence submitted by plaintiff, but concluded that it did “not provide a basis for changing the Administrative Law Judge’s decision.”[3] On March 25, 2014, plaintiff commenced this action in which he asks the court to find that he is entitled to disability benefits.

General Background

Plaintiff was born on June 1, 1960. He was 52 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff has a high school education. Plaintiff lives in a house with his girlfriend. Plaintiff’s past relevant work includes work as a paint prepper, laborer, parts manager, and service parts technician. On September 5, 2009, plaintiff was injured when the light rail car he was riding in was hit by an SUV. Plaintiff was in good health prior to the light rail accident but after the accident, he began having chronic headaches, neck pain, back pain, sensory abnormalities, and hearing loss and tinnitus.[4]

The ALJ’s Decision

The ALJ first determined that plaintiff met “the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2013.”[5] The ALJ then applied the five-step sequential analysis used to determine whether an individual is disabled.[6]

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had “not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2009, the alleged onset date....”[7]

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had “the following severe impairments: sensorimotor polyneuropathy, left ulnar neuropathy, osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, lumbar facet arthropathy, right rotator cuff syndrome, right biceps tenosynovitis, migraine headaches, cerebral atrophy, a balance disorder, and a cognitive disorder....[8] The ALJ considered that “the record reflects that [plaintiff] develops seborrheic and actinic keratosis lesions ... and that he has patent foramen ovale....”[9] The ALJ found that the lesions were not a severe impairment because “[t]he skin lesions are benign, many of them have been treated with cryosurgery, and as to the remaining lesions, the claimant has been advised to monitor them for any unusual changes....”[10] “As to the patent foramen ovale, aspirin therapy has been recommended ..., and the claimant’s treating physician has placed ‘no cardiac restriction’ on him....”[11]

At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did “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....”[12] The ALJ considered Listing 11.14 (peripheral neuropathies), Listing 11.04B (a central nervous system vascular accident with “[s]ignificant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station”), Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine), Listing 2.07 (disturbance of labyrinthine-vestibular function); Listing 11.03 (epilepsy), Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint due to any cause), Listing 11.17A (degenerative disease not listed elsewhere with a disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B), Listing 11.17B (degenerative disease not listed elsewhere with chronic brain syndrome), and Listing 12.02 (organic mental disorders).[13]

The ALJ considered whether plaintiff met the “paragraph B” criteria. The ALJ found that plaintiff had no restriction in activities of daily living; no difficulties with social functioning; moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace; and no episodes of decompensation.[14] The ALJ also considered whether plaintiff met the “paragraph C” criteria, which

require evidence of (1) repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or (2) a residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; or (3) a current history of one or more year’s inability to function outside a ...

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