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Chavez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 21, 2014

PETER J. CHAVEZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


LEWIS T. BABCOCK, District Judge.

Plaintiff Peter J. Chavez appeals Defendant's (the "Commissioner") final administrative decision denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Jurisdiction in this appeal is proper pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). Oral argument would not materially assist in the determination of this appeal. After consideration of the briefs and the record, I affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. Statement of the Case

A hearing on Plaintiff's claim was held before an administrative law judge (the "ALJ") on September 22, 2010. On November 12, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review thereby rendering the ALJ's November 12, 2010 decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of my review. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision.

II. Statement of Facts

A. Background

Plaintiff was born on October 23, 1965, making him 42 years old at the time of alleged disability onset date of April 18, 2008. Administrative Record ("AR") 100. On his alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff was employed at a hospital assisting psychiatric patients with their daily living activities. AR 33. In the past, Plaintiff has also worked on assembly lines at electronics shops and as a machinist. AR 35 & 38.

Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled on April 18, 2008 when he was injured while lifting a psychiatric patient to give him a bath. AR 100. On his alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff weighed approximately 430 pounds. AR 138. Plaintiff claimed disability as a result of " back injury, heart attack, and diabetes." AR 139. Plaintiff was insured through September 30, 2008 and therefore had to establish that he was disabled on or before that date. AR 12.

B. Medical Evidence

Plaintiff sought treatment from Richard Nanes, D.O., shortly after his lower back injury in April of 2008. Dr. Nanes noted that Plaintiff had a history of insulin-dependent diabetes, morbid obesity, sleep apnea, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. AR 398. This same history, as well as asthma, peripheral nueropathy, severe noncompliance, tobacco abuse, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is also reflected on hospital records from November of 2007 when Plaintiff sought treatment for chest pain. AR 183 & 185. After discharge from the hospital in 2007, Plaintiff participated in a sleep study and was diagnosed with "very severe obstructive sleep apnea" that was "correct[ed]... with CPAP at 14 cm of water pressure using a large ResMed full face mask C-Flex system, heated humidity." AR 218.

Dr. Nanes initially assessed Plaintiff with an acute lumbar strain; restricted him from any lifting, carrying, kneeling, or climbing; limited him to one hour of standing and walking per day; and prescribed pain medication and physical therapy. AR 398. On May 23, 2008, Dr. Nanes modified Plaintiff s restrictions to include up to 2 hours of walking and standing a day and 8 hours of sitting and ordered an MRI though he thought Plaintiff might be too large for the machine. AR 391. On June 17, 2008, Dr. Nanes again modified Plaintiff's restrictions to include no lifting or carrying over 10 pounds and up to 4 hours a day of sitting. AR 382. Dr. Nanes also referred Plaintiff to Kenneth Finn, M.D., for pain management and noted that they were unable to obtain an MRI as a result of Plaintiff's obesity and that "there may be a disk involved" with Plaintiffs ongoing lumbar strain. Id.

On June 24, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Finn who strongly encouraged finding an MRI machine that would accommodate Plaintiff's size but thought "[t]here may not be much to offer [Plaintiff] as... significant limitations are going to be found given his morbid obesity." AR 234. Dr. Finn reported that Plaintiff could tolerate "15 minutes of standing, two hours of sitting and driving, and 30 minutes of walking" and that "[Plaintiff's] lifting capacity is ten pounds." AR 233.

On July 8, 2008, Dr. Nanes noted that he had obtained the results of a CT scan but that it was not very helpful "as it really does not show any disks." AR 378. Dr. Finn also received the results of Plaintiff's CT scan via a telephone call with a hospital technician and reported that the scan revealed "pretty much lumbar spondylosis without any disk herniation or nerve impingement." AR 232.

As of July 29, 2008, Plaintiff had returned to work with restrictions of no lifting or carrying over 10 pounds and limited standing, walking, and sitting. AR 1102. Plaintiff reported though that he continued to experience back pain 80 % of the time that averaged a 4 on a scale from 1 to 10. Id. Plaintiff continued to work part-time with the same restrictions through September 9, 2008. AR 367 & 371. At his appointment with Dr. Nanes on that date, Plaintiff reported that he was doing better, and Dr. Nanes loosened his restrictions to allow him to ...

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