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Lucas v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 28, 2014

EDWARD P. LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

ALAN STUART GRAF, Floyd, Virginia, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, ERIN F. HIGHLAND, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Edward P. Lucas, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act) and supplemental security income (SSI) disability benefits under Title XVI of the Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). For the reasons set forth below, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed the instant applications for DIB and SSI on January 23, 2009, alleging disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc disease, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, "(b]ulging or compressed discs, " human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and attention deficit disorder (ADHD). Tr. 233. His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on August 10, 2011, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified.

On September 2, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. After the Appeals Council considered additional evidence and declined review of the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff timely filed a Complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born on May 18, 1965, Plaintiff was 37 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 46 years old on the date of the hearing. Plaintiff has a high school equivalency and past relevant work as a Cashier, Gas Station Attendant, Gas Station Assistant Manager, and Baker. Tr. 24, 45.

Plaintiff alleges his conditions became disabling on April 1, 2003. Tr. 233. Plaintiff testified about his conditions and functional limitations at the hearing and submitted two Adult Function Reports - one in relation to the present application and the other in relation to a 2005 disability application not directly at issue in this case. Tr. 38-49, 198-205, 260-67.

On June 19, 2006, Kurt Brewster, M.D., examined Plaintiff and submitted an opinion as to Plaintiff's physical limitations. Tr. 602-12. Robert Pelz, M.D., Ph.D.; Robert H. K. Choi, M.D., Ph.D.; and Paul G. Curtin, M. D., each submitted forms and letters to Plaintiff's community college concerning his functional limitations as they related to educational accommodations. Tr. 690-91, 692-93, 694-95, 933. Zak Schwartz, Ph.D., one of Plaintiff's treating psychological providers, submitted a February 20, 2009, opinion as to Plaintiff's mental conditions and functional limitations. Tr. 785-87. The record also contains a report from Carmina Angeles, M.D., Ph.D, who evaluated Plaintiff for purposes of medical treatment of Plaintiff's neck and mid-back pain. Tr. 1172-75. Finally, Tara R. Workman, M.D., wrote a letter dated February 9, 2012, which was first submitted to the Appeals Council, concerning Plaintiff's physical conditions. Tr. 1181.

THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (i)-(v), 416.920(a) (4) (i)-(v). Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at Steps One through Four. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five to show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141-42; Tackett , 180 F.3d at 1098.

At Step One the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, April 1, 2003. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq., 416.971 et seq.; Tr. 13.

At Step Two the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease; fibromyalgia; history of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status post bilateral release surgery; history of left meniscal tear, status post arthroscopy; HIV-positive with mild neuropathy; obesity; depression; PTSD; ADHD; and history of methamphetamine use were severe impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c); Tr. 13-14.

At Step Three the ALJ determined Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416. 920 (d), 416. 925, 416. 926; Tr. 15-16.

The ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of light work except that Plaintiff can frequently balance and climb stairs and ramps. The ALJ found Plaintiff could perform all other postural activities occasionally, but should avoid exposure to vibration and hazards. The ALJ further limited Plaintiff to entry-level work consisting of simple one- to two-step instructions and only occasional contact with the general public. Tr. 16-24.

At Step Four the ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to perform all of his past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965; Tr. 24.

At Step Five, however, the ALJ found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including Laundry Sorter and Cleaner/Polisher. Tr. 25. In the alternative, the ALJ also found that if a limitation to "occasional use of the hands and arms for reaching, fingering, and handling were added" to the RFC, Plaintiff would be able to perform the occupations of Bakery Helper and Blending Tank Tender Helper. Tr. 25.

Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

ISSUES ON REVIEW

Plaintiff raises two primary issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ improperly rejected Plaintff's testimony. Second, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erroneously discredited the opinions of ...


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