United States District Court, D. Colorado
BRYAN T. ALIRES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
RAYMOND P. MOORE, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Bryan T. Alires's ("Plaintiff") request for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff challenges the final decision of Defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, by which she denied Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") ruled Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and therefore not entitled to DIB.
The Commissioner provided the Court with the administrative record. (ECF Nos. 15; 15-1; 15-2; 15-3; 15-4; 15-5; 15-6; 15-7; 15-8; 15-9; 16.) Plaintiff filed an opening brief (ECF No. 17) and Defendant responded (ECF No. 18). Plaintiff did not file a reply brief nor seek an extension of time in which to file such a brief. ( See generally Dkt.) Accordingly, the matter is ripe for adjudication.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's DIB application.
Plaintiff applied for DIB in November 2009, alleging disability as of July 10, 2009, due to the following conditions that allegedly limit his ability to work: high blood pressure, gout, kidney disease, knee replacement, torn bicep, hernia, obesity, and sleep apnea. (Admin. R. ("Tr.") at 143.) After Plaintiff's application was initially denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ which was held in July 2011. (Tr. 28, 64, 71.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on August 16, 2011. (Tr. 10-23.) Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision and such review was denied on August 8, 2012. (Tr. 1-9.) Plaintiff timely requested judicial review before the Court. (ECF No. 1.)
A. Background and Relevant Medical Evidence
Plaintiff was born in 1967. (Tr. 32-33.) Plaintiff completed high school and also attended three years of college. (Tr. 33.) Plaintiff has previously worked as a mechanical foreman/superintendent (Tr. 52-53, 57), pump operator (Tr. 54, 58), and a pipefitter (Tr. 55, 57). Plaintiff has been unable to work since July 9, 2009. (Tr. 143.) On December 9, 2009, Plaintiff filed a disability report alleging he is disabled as a result of high blood pressure, gout, kidney disease, "DJD-knee replacement, " torn bicep, hernia, obesity, and sleep apnea. (Tr. 143.)
Plaintiff has an extensive medical history of hypertension, edema, gout, and obesity. (Tr. 205.) Plaintiff also has an extensive surgical history including left knee replacement (Tr. 205), multiple hernia repairs (Tr. 205), as well as colon and small bowel resections (Tr. 205).
Throughout 2009, Marcus T. Higi, M.D., treated Plaintiff. (Tr. 205-24.) Plaintiff informed Dr. Higi that he felt fatigued. (Tr. 213.) A February 13, 2009 office visit with Dr. Higi demonstrated that Plaintiff experienced fatigue, weight gain, swollen extremities, obesity, edema, and a hernia. (Tr. 213-16.) The evaluation demonstrated that Plaintiff was negative for joint stiffness, joint pain, muscular pain, or muscle weakness. (Tr. 214.) In comparison, Plaintiff reported joint pains and joint swelling in an earlier evaluation by Dr. Higi. (Tr. 222.)
In 2009, Plaintiff was diagnosed with sleep apnea for which treatment with a continuous positive airway pressure ("CPAP") machine was recommended. (Tr. 228-32.)
Throughout 2009, Plaintiff saw providers at the Salud Clinic. (Tr. 240-56.) In August 2009, Plaintiff saw a medical provider, Tammera Park, PA-C, a physician's assistant (hereinafter "PA Park") at Salud Clinic. PA Park noted that Plaintiff had high blood pressure, bone pain (while opining that this condition is probably related to weight and arthritis), and a nodule in the right bicep. (Tr. 241-42, 246, 249.) Plaintiff informed PA Park that he did not pass a "work physical" because of his high blood pressure. (Tr. 241.) In July 2009, PA Park assessed Plaintiff as suffering from hypertension, edema, obesity, and sleep apnea. (Tr. 246.) In December 2008, PA Park assessed Plaintiff as suffering from "fatigue and malaise related to probable sleep apnea and obesity." (Tr. 249.)
In 2009, Plaintiff received treatment from Karyl VanBenthuysen, M.D. (Tr. 258-64.) On December 22, 2009, Plaintiff reported no muscle weakness and no muscle aches to Dr. VanBenthuysen. (Tr. 258.) Plaintiff complained of some fatigue and gout-related swelling to Dr. VanBenthuysen. (Tr. 258.) Dr. VanBenthuysen determined that Plaintiff had a "normal stable gait" and "normal muscle tone." (Tr. 259.) Dr. VanBenthuysen determined that Plaintiff had no edema in his extremities. (Tr. 259.)
In January 2010, Plaintiff underwent hernia repair which was followed by complications that required his admission to a hospital. (Tr. 273-86, 328-29, 332, 338-41.) In early February 2010, Plaintiff was hospitalized for an infection around a drain that had been put in place as a result of the hernia repair. (Tr. 233-34, 269-70, 293-311, 318-20, 323-24, 335-37, 348-49, 359-64, 366-69, 379.)
In November 2009, February 2010, April 2010, and July 2010, Plaintiff saw Mark D. Solano, M.D., for follow-up regarding his hernia surgery, his high blood pressure, and his lower back pain. (Tr. 268-69, 378-81.) Dr. Solano did not find Plaintiff's complaints of back pain to be substantiated. ( See Tr. 268-69, 378-81.)
In December 2010 and January 2011, Plaintiff received treatment for abdominal pain and pancreatitis, and underwent procedures to remove his gallbladder and clean the gallbladder duct. (Tr. 415-23, 427-33, 446, 454-60, 465-70.)
In May 2011, Richard Carson, M.D., conducted a consultative evaluation in connection with Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 471-83.) Dr. Carson noted Plaintiff's chief complaints of a torn bicep, right knee pain, prior left knee replacement, low back pain, sleep apnea, and gout. (Tr. 471.) Dr. Carson noted that Plaintiff is obese. (Tr. 472.) Dr. Carson examined Plaintiff's range of motion and found that Plaintiff "had full motion of his cervical spine, full motion of his lumbar spine... full motion of his hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers." (Tr. 473.) Dr. Carson determined that Plaintiff's "gait was normal... [and that] [h]e could toe, heel, and tandem walk." (Tr. 473.) Dr. Carson also completed a statement of Plaintiff's ability to do work-related activities. Dr. Carson noted that Plaintiff could lift/carry boxes weighing between 11 to 20 pounds frequently (which means from one-third to two-thirds of the time in an 8 hour work day). (Tr. 475.) That Plaintiff could sit for two hours at a time without interruption; stand for 30 minutes at a time and walk for 10 minutes at a time. (Tr. 476.) Plaintiff, in an eight-hour work day, could sit for 6 hours, stand for 6 hours, and walk for 1 hour. (Tr. 476.) With respect to both hands, Plaintiff could reach, handle, finger, feel, push/pull either frequently or continuously throughout the day. (Tr. 477.) With regard to his feet, Plaintiff could operate foot controls only occasionally. (Tr. 477.) With respect to postural activities, Plaintiff could never climb stairs/ramps/ladders/scaffolds; could frequently balance/stoop; and could occasionally kneel/crouch/crawl. Dr. Carson determined that Plaintiff could "ambulate without using a wheelchair, walker, or 2 canes or 2 crutches." (Tr. 480.) But Dr. Carson determined that Plaintiff could not "walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces." (Tr. 480.)
In November 2011, Plaintiff was diagnosed with colon cancer. (Tr. 489.)
B. The ALJ's Decision
ALJ Michael Heitz issued his decision on August 16, 2011 denying Plaintiff DIB. (Tr. 10-23.) In reaching his decision, ALJ Heitz followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating disability claims. (Tr. 13-23.) ALJ Heitz found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2013. (Tr. 15.) ALJ Heitz found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 10, 2009, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 15.) ALJ Heitz found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "hernias, gout, knee surgery and pain, pain in back, swelling in hands and legs, sleep apnea, gout [sic], and obesity." (Tr. 15.) ALJ Heitz found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments described in in Appendix 1 of the Social Security Regulations. (Tr. 15-16.) ALJ Heitz found Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") to be as follows:
The claimant... [can] perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except that the claimant can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit 1 hour at a time and 6 hours a day; stand 30 minutes at a time and 6 hours a day; walk 10 minutes at time and 1 hour a day; occasionally kneel, crouch and use leg controls bilaterally; frequently reach and handle bilaterally; and frequently stoop and balance. The ...