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Adkins v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 16, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff Charles E. Adkins appeals the final decision of Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin (“SSA”) denying his application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq. I have considered the briefs [Docs. # 15, 16, 17] and the administrative record [Doc. # 11] (“AR”). Oral argument would not materially assist me in determining this appeal.

Mr. Adkins argues that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining his residual functional capacity at step four of SSA’s sequential process for evaluating disability. Specifically, he contends that the ALJ failed to properly develop the opinions of a treating physician; improperly discounted the opinions of an examining physician; and failed to properly account for his mental impairments. He seeks an award of benefits or, alternatively, a new administrative hearing. As I explain below, these arguments are without merit. Accordingly, I AFFIRM.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

On January 25, 2011, Mr. Adkins filed his claim for benefits with SSA, alleging that he became disabled on February 1, 2010. AR 11. SSA denied his claim initially on August 23, 2011. Id. Mr. Adkins requested a hearing, which took place on September 26, 2012, before an ALJ. Id. In a decision dated October 15, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Adkins was not disabled and denied his claim. AR 8. Mr. Adkins sought review by SSA’s Appeals Council. AR 7. On February 25, 2014, thzxe Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of SSA. AR 1; Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003). On April 14, 2014, Mr. Adkins timely filed the instant appeal [Doc. # 1]. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. Medical Evidence

The following facts are undisputed. In March 2010, Mr. Adkins presented to Richard King, M.D., at Pueblo Community Health Center. AR 255. He complained of wheezing, coughing, and drainage, but noted that he generally does not have trouble with his lungs. AR 254-55. Dr. King assessed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) and asthma. Id. He refilled an albuterol inhaler and noted that Mr. Adkins was also using a Flovent inhaler. Id.

In April 2010, Mr. Adkins told Dr. King that he had experienced a “partial seizure” a “couple of weeks ago.” AR 254. Dr. King assessed “seizure disorder” but noted that it was “stable.” AR 254. He refilled Mr. Adkins’ Dilantin, a medication to control seizures. Id. He noted that Mr. Adkins’ breathing was doing well and that he had no shortness of breath or chest pains. Id.

In October 2010, Mr. Adkins presented to an emergency room. He believed he had just experienced a seizure because he woke up shaking, vomiting, and having diarrhea. AR 219. He reported that he once had a seizure due to a “meth OD” and that he “often neglect[ed] to take” his Dilantin. Id. The ER doctor assessed likely food poisoning rather than a seizure. AR 222.

Mr. Adkins saw Dr. King again in December 2010. AR 252. Dr. King noted wheezing, assessed COPD, and refilled the inhalers. Id. He noted that Mr. Adkins had not had a seizure in “many months.” Id. Mr. Adkins complained of “a lot of pain in his back and his hips.” Id. Dr. King noted that Mr. Adkins moved slowly getting on and off of the examination table and was clearly uncomfortable due to back stiffness. Id. He assessed back pain. Id.

In January 2011, Mr. Adkins again presented to the ER, where he claimed he had ingested excessive alcohol and Dilantin in order “to harm himself.” AR 203. The ER doctor noted that Mr. Adkins smelled of alcohol but that his “Dilantin level was undetectable, ” which “cast[ed] doubt [on] his claim.” AR 206-07. He was sent to a detoxification facility. AR 207.

In February 2011, Mr. Adkins told Dr. King that he had experienced a seizure the week before and another a month before that. AR 248. He complained of “a lot” of pain in his back “with pain down both legs into the calf region.” Id. Dr. King assessed acute and chronic back pain; prescribed the pain reliever tramadol and the muscle relaxant Robaxin; and ordered a magnetic resonance imaging scan (“MRI”). Id. The MRI showed degenerative disc disease, most significantly at the L2-L3 level, with some foraminal encroachment. AR 274.

In April 2011, Mr. Adkins told Dr. King that he could only walk two blocks before being “incapacitated” with back pain but could ride his bicycle “for [a] much longer period of time.” AR 281. He had not tried the tramadol that Dr. King prescribed. Id. Dr. King told Mr. Adkins that he had “basically a pain control issue, ” advised trying the tramadol along with ibuprofen, and said he would prescribe other pain relievers if that did not work. Id. He added that Mr. Adkins would be “limited on activities, in particular standing, walking, and bending.” Id. He noted that Mr. Adkins’ COPD was stable. Id.

In May 2011, non-examining physician James McElhinney, M.D., reviewed the file in connection with the instant disability claim. AR 66-67. He opined that Mr. Adkins could lift 25 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently and could “stand and/or walk” 4 hours and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. AR 66. He also opined that Mr. Adkins could stoop (i.e., bend at the waist) and crouch (i.e., bend at the knees) without limitation. Id. He recommended that Mr. Adkins avoid “even moderate exposure” to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, and unprotected heights due to his history of COPD and seizures. AR 67.

In June 2011, Mr. Adkins submitted to a physical examination with Jeremy Drechsler, D.O. AR 289-94. Mr. Adkins said his back pain began four years ago, when he tried to lift some bleachers by himself. AR 289. He said the pain was in his lower back and radiated down his legs. Id. He claimed he could only walk 50 feet at a time, but noted that riding his bike did not aggravate his pain as much. Id. He said that “[i]t is hard for him to clean or cook or do anything” and that his sister and mother bring over food and “help him in his home, since he can only basically walk with the help of holding onto countertops.” AR 290. While Dr. Drechsler noted that the “pain medicines [Mr. Adkins] is on” did not help, no pain medications are noted in the “current medications” section of his report. Id. On examination, he observed that Mr. Adkins “had pain-mitigating movements throughout” and provided details in this regard. See AR 291. He assessed back pain and asthma. AR 294. He assigned functional limitations of 0 to 2 hours of standing, 0 to 2 hours of walking, and 2 to 4 hours of sitting, all in an 8-hour workday allowing for breaks every 10 to 15 minutes. Id. He also imposed a lifting limitation of 10 pounds for 0 to 2 hours and a carrying limitation of 10 to 15 pounds for 0 to 2 hours. Id.

In August 2011, psychologist Richard Madsen, Ph.D., examined Mr. Adkins. AR 298-302. Mr. Adkins reported that he “gets very depressed.” AR 298. He said he was sleeping only three to four hours per night and felt chronically tired. Id. He reported suicidal thoughts, although Dr. Madsen questioned his claim of a Dilantin overdose in January 2011. AR 299-300. Dr. Madsen noted that Mr. Adkins was “extremely talkative” and had friends. AR 299, 301. He assessed moderate to severe chronic depression, but noted that Mr. Adkins “has chronic alcohol abuse” and uses marijuana. AR 302. Dr. Madsen opined that Mr. Adkins’ “ability to do work-related activities will be impaired by” his depression and assigned him a “Global Assessment of Functioning” score of 60, indicating moderate symptoms or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning. Id.; Amer. Psychiatric Ass’n, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders at 32 (4th ed. 1994) (“DSM-IV”).

Also in August 2011, and shortly after Dr. Madsen’s examination, non-examining psychologist MaryAnn Wharry, Psy.D., reviewed the file. AR 63-64, 67-69. She concluded that Mr. Adkins’ psychiatric issues, which she classified as an affective disorder and a substance addiction disorder, mildly restricted his activities of daily living, moderately restricted his ability to maintain social functioning, and moderately restricted his ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace, but had caused no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. AR 64. She completed a ...

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