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Caudillo v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 28, 2018

Mario Caudillo, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE D. THOMAS FERRARO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Mario Caudillo (“Caudillo”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Caudillo seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). (Doc. 1.) Before the Court are Caudillo's opening brief, the Commissioner's answering brief, and Caudillo's reply brief. (Docs. 22, 23, 24.) The parties have consented to a decision being rendered by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 19.) For the reason set forth below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge will be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Procedural Background

         On September 18, 2012, Caudillo filed an application for Social Security Benefits under Title XVI alleging a disability onset date of August 25, 2011. On April 1, 2013, Caudillo's claim was denied at the initial level. On September 16, 2013, Caudillo's claim was denied on reconsideration. On February 5, 2015, Caudillo amended his alleged onset date to October 1, 2013. On May 26, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge George W. Reyes (the “ALJ”). On August 27, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. On October 19, 2015, Caudillo timely filed a request for review to the appeals council. On January 19, 2017, Caudillo's request for review was denied. The ALJ's unfavorable decision is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this Court's judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Factual Background

         Caudillo has a high school education and since graduating high school has never generated an annual income greater than $7, 700. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 26, 69-70, 227-228, 259.) As a result, Caudillo has no past relevant work. (AR 26.) Caudillo's more recent earnings derive from automobile detailing work. (AR 68-69, 231-232, 259.)

         Caudillo alleges disability from degenerative disc disease, shoulder impairments, asthma, COPD and anxiety. (AR 258.) A 2001 MRI of Caudillo's cervical and lumbar spine revealed disc bulging and protrusions at multiple levels of his cervical spine, including C6-C7 spondylosis producing moderate to severe right foraminal stenosis and disc bulging in the lumbar spine at ¶ 5-S1. (AR. 432.) In 2013, Caudillo was taken to the emergency room with severe lower back pain. (AR. 601.) His spine was tender from T1 through L5-S1. (AR 602.) An MRI taken on October 28, 2013 revealed posterior ridging, a disc bulge, and bilateral neural forminal encroachment related to facet hypertrophy at ¶ 5-S1. (AR 606.)

         On February 28, 2013, state agency consultative examiner Dr. Marilyn Orenstein, M.D., opined in part that Caudillo was unlimited in his ability to handle, finger and feel. (AR 90.) On March 27, 2013, consultative examiner Dr. Jerome Rothbaum, M.D., observed absent sensation to light touch on the first, second, and third fingers of Caudillo's right hand and inconsistent sensation on his left hand. (AR 544.) Dr. Rothbaum opined that Caudillo could lift 20 pounds occasionally, ten (10) pounds frequently, could occasionally climb ramps/stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, reach, handle, finger, and feel, and should not work around heights, moving machinery, chemicals, or gasses. (AR 546-547.)

         On September 12, 2013, state agency consultative examiner, L.M.W., M.D., opined in part that Caudillo was unlimited in his ability to handle, finger and feel. (AR 109.) An MRI taken in 2015 showed disc bulging at the L5-S1 level with super imposed right paracentral disc extrusion with slight caudal extension, abutting and possible affecting the right S1 nerve. (AR 698.) At a supplemental hearing held on May 26, 2015, testifying medical expert Dr. Anthony Francis, M.D., testified that he would assign Caudillo a medium residual functional capacity (RFC) with limitations on exposure to fumes, dusts, and unprotected heights, although it would be within the discretion of the ALJ to assign a light RFC based upon “the other factors.” (AR 42-43.) Dr. Francis testified:

Well, you know, going through this chart Claimant basically has neck, back - neck and back pain, he's got some issues with maybe asthma, although he's a smoker. And he's had this - these blebs, which are basically sort of like balloons on the lungs that have popped and caused pneumothoraces. So I mean that's the identifiable objective pathology. And then we've got anxiety and possible substance issues. […] So just basically neck pain, low back pain, and then the lung problem, basically he would be at a medium RFC, you know following Social Security rules which require the maximum RFC with, you know, possibly no unprotected heights and then limitations on noxious fumes, dust and that sort of thing.

Id. Dr. Francis did not opine on any limitation to Caudillo's ability to handle, finger and feel. (AR 39-52.)

         The ALJ determined at Step Two was that Caudillo's severe impairments are degenerative disc disease and asthma. Caudillo does not contest this determination. (Doc. 22.) At Step Five, the ALJ determined Caudillo had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(b) with the following limitations:

The claimant is unable to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but he is able to occasionally climb ramps, stairs, use a step stool, and occasionally stoop, crouch or crawl. He is limited to occasional bilateral overhead reaching. He must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibrations, chemicals, fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation or the like. He must also avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. The claimant cannot work in a fast production environment, such as the pace of work in a McDonald's or In-N-Out hamburger restaurant. He is further limited to simple, routine tasks. He is able to attend and concentrate in ...

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