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Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 21, 2018

Christopher Smith, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Leslie A. Bowman, United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff filed this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1, p. 1)

         The Magistrate Judge presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) having received the written consent of both parties. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 73; (Doc. 14)

         The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In January of 2014, Smith filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 157) He alleged disability beginning on November 1, 2013, due to cervical dystonia [involuntary muscle contractions], acid reflux, anxiety, depression, “explosive disorder, ” sleep problems, and uncontrolled movements of head and hands. (Tr. 157, 214)

         His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 93-96); (Tr. 102-104) Smith requested review and appeared with counsel at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) MaryAnn Lunderman on May 3, 2016. (Tr. 44) In her decision, dated July 15, 2016, the ALJ found Smith was not disabled because, considering his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, he could work in assembly, DOT # 725.684-018. (Tr. 21-37)

         Smith appealed, but on September 22, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4) Smith subsequently filed this action seeking review of that final decision. (Doc. 1)

         Claimant's Work History and Medical History

         Smith was 44 years old at the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 48) He attended technical school while in the Air Force and worked as a medical technologist. (Tr. 49-50) He also earned a certificate from the Tucson College of Business. (Tr. 49)

         For over 16 years, Smith worked as a phlebotomist. (Tr. 50) One day at work, he “was very mad” and was “asked to leave the premises by security.” (Tr. 50); (Tr. 318) He voluntarily quit rather than being fired. (Tr. 51) This incident appears to mark his alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 318); (Tr. 157, 214)

         Smith testified at the hearing that he cannot work now because his “knees are gone” and he has “fibromyalgia.” (Tr. 51) He has insomnia, vomits frequently, and urinates frequently. (Tr. 52) He has tremors in his neck from cervical dystonia, which was aggravated by a traffic accident. (Tr. 52); (Tr. 316); (Tr. 687) He has pain in his right hand that causes him difficulty writing. (Tr. 57-58)

         Smith also has mental impairments. He suffers from depression, anxiety, and paranoid delusions. (Tr. 555) In June of 2014, he was given emergency mental health treatment when he stated that he had a gun and wanted to kill himself. (Tr. 55); (Tr. 488)

         When asked about his functional limitations, Smith testified that he can only lift 10 pounds, sit for 15 to 30 minutes, walk a block and a half, and stand for 30 minutes. (Tr. 53-54) He can clean his bathroom and do his own laundry. (Tr. 54) His mother does all of the cooking. (Tr. 54)

         Ruth Van Vleet testified as a vocational expert. (Tr. 58) She explained that Smith's work as a phlebotomist was light, semi-skilled work. (Tr. 59) She testified that a person “limited to simple tasks with no more than occasional, brief, intermittent, business-related contact with the public” could not perform that job. (Tr. 59) (punctuation modified) Van Vleet further testified that a person with Smith's age, education, and work experience would be disabled if he were limited to standing or walking 2 hours per day; sitting 30 minutes at one time; lifting up to 10 pounds; and “frequent” reaching, feeling, fingering, handling, grasping, kneeling, and crouching. (Tr. 60) But if that person could sit for at least 1 hour at a time and could use his upper extremities on a “continuous” basis, he could work in assembly, DOT # 725.684-018. (Tr. 61)

         Mental Impairment

         In May of 2014, a psychologist identified as G. R. L., Ph.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Smith's mental impairment. (Tr. 69-73) G. R. L. diagnosed Smith with affective disorder. (Tr. 69) G. R. L. then evaluated Smith's “B” listing criteria, which gauge the severity of his limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3). G. R. L. found Smith has no restrictions of his daily activities; “moderate” difficulties in maintaining social functioning; “moderate” difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and no evidence of decompensation. (Tr. 70) G. R. L. further opined that the medical evidence did not establish the presence of the “C” criteria, which are an alternative gauge of the extent of his mental impairment. (Tr. 70) G. R. L. then considered Smith's residual functional capacity (RFC). (Tr. 71) G. R. L. found that Smith's ability to understand and remember detailed instructions is markedly limited. (Tr. 71) His ability to carry out detailed instructions and ability to interact appropriately with the general public are markedly limited. (Tr. 72) His ability to work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them is moderately limited. (Tr. 72) His ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors is moderately limited. (Tr. 72) His ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes is moderately limited. (Tr. 72)

         In September of 2014, Eugene Campbell, Ph.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service on reconsideration and offered an opinion of Smith's mental impairment. (Tr. ...


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