United States District Court, D. Colorado
ROBERT C.T. VINE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DENIAL OF BENEFITS
CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This matter is before the Court on review of the Commissioner’s decision denying Plaintiff Robert C.T. Vine’s application for disability benefits. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff raises three issues in his opening brief: (1) the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to consider properly the combined effect of all of Plaintiff’s severe and nonsevere impairments as required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545; (2) the ALJ’s evaluation of the credibility of Plaintiff’s subjective complaints is not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ’s step five determination is not supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds Plaintiff’s arguments to be without merit and, therefore, affirms the August 8, 2013 written decision of the ALJ.
Plaintiff was born on July 5, 1968. (AR at 139.) Plaintiff earned an Associate’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management and primarily worked as a cook in the food service industry. (AR at 50, 163, 171.)
In May 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning April 5, 2008. (AR at 30, 67.) In his disability report, Plaintiff states that he suffers from the following physical conditions: neuropathy, lumbar disc disease, diabetes, meralgia paresthetica, and chronic pain. (AR at 162.) In his function report, Plaintiff states that he “cannot stand for long periods of time or walk a long way at one time.” (AR at 184.) In addition, Plaintiff states that his “leg is very weak” and that he experiences “pain when [he] sit[s] for long periods.” (AR at 184.) Plaintiff describes a typical day as follows: “take medication, drink coffee, sit at the computer, do dish[es], take shower, fix breakfast, take more medication, lay down, read, fix lunch, finish dishes, watch TV, help fix dinner.” (AR at 185.) With regard to household chores, Plaintiff states that he is able to prepare meals and do laundry and dishes. (AR at 186.) Plaintiff states that he cannot do yard work because he “cannot stand for long periods of time.” (AR at 187.) Plaintiff states that he goes outside “once a day” and that he is able to drive. (AR at 187.) Plaintiff is able to shop for food and clothing, pay bills, count change, handle a savings account, and use a checkbook/money orders. (AR at 187.)
In his personal pain questionnaire, Plaintiff states that he experiences “left thigh pain” and that this pain is worse when he is “standing, walking, [and] sitting in [the] same position for long periods.” (AR at 192.) Plaintiff states that he experiences this pain “almost every day” and that, when he experiences this pain, it is “constant.” (AR at 192.)
Plaintiff’s application was initially denied on September 27, 2012. (AR at 30.) On October 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ. (AR at 30.) That hearing took place on July 25, 2013, in Denver, Colorado before ALJ James W. Olson. (AR at 30.) Plaintiff was represented by attorney Peter McGuire at the hearing. (AR at 30.) At the beginning of the hearing, Plaintiff amended the alleged onset date of his disability to September 14, 2011. (AR at 49.)
At the hearing, Plaintiff provided the ALJ with the following information. Plaintiff stopped working in 2008 because he “headed back to school to finish up [his] culinary degree and study abroad.” (AR at 52.) In 2011, Plaintiff “took a terrible fall” and “jammed [his] muscles into [his] femoral artery.” (AR at 52.) According to Plaintiff, this “[c]reated extreme pressure on standing [sic] for long periods of time” and “extreme pain.” (AR at 52.) Plaintiff stopped working after the fall because it was “too painful” to stand for long periods of time and his work as a cook did not allow him to “stop and sit” when he needed to. (AR at 52.) Plaintiff stated that he can stand for only “20 [or] 30 minutes” at a time and that on “a good day” he can walk “about three blocks” and on “a bad day . . . maybe a block at the most.” (AR at 53.) Plaintiff also states that he “can’t sit for long periods of time” because he gets “cramp[s] and [his] legs start act[ing] up.” (AR at 54.) When this occurs, he has to “get up and go for a little walk and stretch or go lay down for a while just to relax.” (AR at 54.) Plaintiff has received treatment at the University of Colorado Hospital. (AR at 54.) He has not had surgery, but he has received approximately six to eight steroid injections “to help control the pain and relieve the tension.” (AR at 54, 55.) After receiving an injection, Plaintiff is relieved of his pain for a period of one to three weeks. (AR at 55.)
On August 8, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (AR at 43.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: type II diabetes mellitus; peripheral neuropathy; meralgia paresthetica in his left thigh; degenerative disc disease and facet joint arthropathy in his lumbar spine; degenerative disc disease and facet joint arthropathy in his thoracic spine; chondrocalcinosis and osteopoikilosis in his left knee; pes equinus and hallux rigidus in his bilateral feet; and obesity. (AR at 32.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following non-severe impairments: gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”); diabetic nephropathy with secondary proteinuria; monoclonal gammopathy; mild bilateral cataracts and dry eye syndrome; osteopoikilosis in his left hand; and hypertension and hyperlipidemia. (AR at 34.) The ALJ 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 in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 34.)
The ALJ also found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that he could “only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ramps or stairs. (AR at 35.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff “can frequently balance, ” but that “[h]e can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.” (AR at 35.) Also, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has an unlimited ability to push or pull within his lifting limitations” but that “[h]e must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and hazards[, ] such as dangerous machinery or unprotected heights.” (AR at 35.) In support of his finding regarding Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ relied on the medical evidence contained in the record, Plaintiff’s own testimony provided during the hearing, and the medical opinions of Dr. Anthony LoGalbo, M.D. (a state agency medical consultant) and Dr. Gurcharan Singh, M.D. (a regional medical consultant). (AR at 35-41.)
Lastly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work because they are all “medium exertional level jobs.” (AR at 41.) However, the ALJ found that, “[c]onsidering [Plaintiff’s] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.” (AR at 42.) Based on the vocational parameters provided by the ALJ, the vocational expert testified that Plaintiff could be employed as an assembler of small products (420, 200 jobs in the national economy, 538 jobs in the regional economy) or a bench assembler (180, 800 jobs in the national economy, 110 jobs in the regional economy). (AR at 62-63.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled, as that term is defined in sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (AR at 43.)
On October 4, 2013, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision. (AR at 22.) On May 6, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (AR at 1-4.) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the Social Security Administration's final decision for purposes of appeal. See Blea v. Barnhart, 466 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff filed the current action on June 29, 2015. (Doc. # 1.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, the Court is limited to determining “whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Secretary applied the correct legal standards.” Pacheco v. Sullivan, 931 F.2d 695, 696 (10th Cir. 1991); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). The Supreme Court has defined “substantial evidence” as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consol. Edison Co. of N.Y. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 217 (1938). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance . . . .” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d 1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987).
In reviewing the record to make the substantial evidence determination, the Court “may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for the Secretary’s.” Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994). In addition, the Court “may not displace the agency’s choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the [C]ourt would justifiably have made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Also, the ...