United States District Court, D. Colorado
PRESTON J. KEELER IV, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING ALJ'S DECISION DENYING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, District Judge.
Plaintiff Preston J. Keeler, proceeding pro se,  claims he is disabled because he suffers from myriad pain-related ailments that were triggered by a bad measles vaccine and undiagnosed (and now chronic) Lyme disease. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) disagreed, principally relying on a report from Dr. Michael Weaver, who asserted that Plaintiff's impairments were not disabling and that doctors who endorsed Plaintiff's position on the origin of his symptoms were relying on bad science. Plaintiff strenuously disagrees with the ALJ's reasoning, Dr. Weaver's analysis, and the entire process that has led to this appeal. None of these arguments are availing. Because the ALJ's determination is supported by substantial evidence, this Court affirms.
As the ALJ noted, this is a case in which there are "markedly divergent" medical opinions about the extent and existence of Plaintiff's impairments. (AR 27.) On the one hand, Plaintiff urges that he suffers from chronic Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and generally debilitating pain. He claims his conditions derive in large part from two causes: (1) a bad measles vaccine he received in 1984, which severely damaged his immune system; and (2) untreated Lyme disease, which he contracted from a tick bite in 1984, and which has ultimately led him to suffer from "chronic Lyme disease."
In support of his position, Plaintiff can point to some medical diagnoses that suggest he is suffering from debilitating physical impairments. See, e.g., (AR 541-45, 548-52) (June 2011 opinions rendered by Dr. Ruben Zorilla who, although never stating that he physically examined Plaintiff, asserts that Plaintiff has Lyme disease, suffers from chronic muscular and joint pain, and would need lifelong treatment for these ailments); (AR 557-63) (opinion from a non-treating physical therapist who performed some examination of Plaintiff, suggested that Lyme disease caused Plaintiff's ailments, and concluded that Plaintiff was able to only minimally perform work-related tasks because of pain).
On the other hand, the ALJ relied principally on the opinion testimony of Dr. Michael Weaver, who conceded that Plaintiff suffered from some pain and tenderness on palpation but concluded that: (1) there was no sound basis for concluding that Plaintiff (still) suffered from Lyme disease or had received a bad vaccine; (2) the treatment records that Plaintiff provided did not reflect the severity or frequency of the ailments from which Plaintiff claims to suffer, such as chronic pain or a severely weakened immune system; and (3) lab results indicating Plaintiff had Lyme disease came from a discredited clinic and were, therefore, not reliable. (AR 528-35.)
Notably, in discounting Lyme disease as a cause of Plaintiff's pain, Dr. Weaver relied on a report from the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded that the medical consensus on "chronic Lyme disease" is that it does not exist, even if this view is not held by the wider public. See Henry Feder, Jr., et al., A Critical Appraisal of "Chronic Lime Disease", 357 New Eng. J. Med. 1422 (Oct. 2007), available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra072023.
Further, Dr. Weaver appears to have consulted Wikipedia in determining whether or not, in line with Plaintiff's allegations, a defective measles vaccine that Plaintiff received in 1984 resulted in widespread fatalities and greatly weakened Plaintiff's immune system. Dr. Weaver noted that neither Wikipedia nor an authority affiliated with the National Institutes of Health corroborated Plaintiff's allegations. (AR 379-85, 386-91.) He further noted that there was a lack of evidence of "frequent, unusual, or opportunistic infection" that would be present in someone with a compromised immune system. (AR 535.) In light of this evidence, Dr. Weaver concluded that there was significant evidence that cut against Plaintiff's assertion that he had some sort of immunodeficiency. (AR 535.)
Dr. Weaver's opinion is largely supported by Dr. John Mars, who also examined Plaintiff, accepted that Plaintiff suffered from chronic Lyme disease, but nevertheless concluded that Plaintiff could, among other things, lift and carry up to fifteen pounds, sit without restriction, stand and walk for up to ten minutes each hour. See, e.g., (AR 481-84.)
The ALJ ultimately endorsed Dr. Weaver's position, echoing the doctor's concern that Plaintiff's infrequent trips to any medical professional undermined his claim that he was suffering from constant and intense pain. The ALJ further noted that Dr. Weaver's position was supported by Dr. Mars and that, on the whole, the record evidence supported a finding that Plaintiff had residual functional capacity to perform work, notwithstanding his impairments. (AR 24-34.)
Plaintiff now challenges several aspects of this reasoning on appeal.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court's review of the ALJ's determination is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner-through the ALJ-applied the correct legal standards. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Wall, 561 F.3d at 1084. In reviewing the record and the arguments of counsel, the Court does not reexamine the issues de novo, Sisco v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir. 1993), nor does it re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th Cir. 2006). Thus, even when some evidence may have supported contrary findings, the Court ...