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Eddie C. Williams v. Michael J. Astrue

May 19, 2011

EDDIE C. WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Claimant Eddie Williams ("Claimant") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking reversal or remand of the decision by Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). In response, Defendant filed a motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision. Claimant raises the following issues in support of his motion: (1) whether the ALJ appropriately evaluated Claimant's allegations of severe fatigue; and (2) whether the ALJ properly analyzed the evidence of Claimant's spinal degeneration. For the following reasons, the Court denies Claimant's motion, grants the Commissioner's motion, and affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

A. Procedural History

Claimant initially filed for DIB on July 16, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2004. R. 147--55. Claimant's date last insured for disability insurance benefits was December 31, 2004. R. 29. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied his application on September 2, 2008. R. 84--87. Claimant then filed a request for reconsideration, which the SSA denied on January 22, 2009. R. 96--98. Shortly thereafter, Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 99--100.

On October 28, 2009, Administrative Law Judge Mona Ahmed (the "ALJ") presided over a hearing at which Claimant appeared with his attorney, Barry Schultz.

R. 25--72. Claimant, medical expert Dr. John Cavenagh, and vocational expert Grace Gianforte testified at the hearing. On November 16, 2009, the ALJ rendered a decision finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. R. 9--24. Specifically, the ALJ found Claimant, through the date he was last insured, did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited his ability to perform basic work-related activities for a period of twelve consecutive months. R. 14.

Claimant then requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. R. 145--46. On December 1, 2009 the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 4--8. Claimant subsequently filed this action for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. Hearing Testimony"October 28, 2009

1. Eddie Williams"Claimant

Claimant was fifty-seven years old as of December 31, 2004, the date he was last insured. R. 29, 64. He worked as a machinist for Caterpillar for thirty years before retiring in 1998. R. 33. Following his time there, he worked as a security guard, and was last employed as a machinist for Midwest Temp Group in 1999. R. 32--33. While at Midwest Temp Group, Claimant's job duties included running an automated machine and loading parts onto the machine that weighed up to forty-five pounds. R. 34--35. Claimant testified he experienced back pain as a result of his work as a machinist, and he quit in part because of the pain and because he was about to be demoted. R. 33, 48--49.

Claimant described various medical impairments he suffered. He began experiencing joint pain as far back as 2003 or 2004, but was not actually treated for arthritis until 2007 or 2008, when the arthritis symptoms "completely demobilized" him.

R. 39--40. His arthritis in 2004 was very light, but sometimes made walking painful. R. 45--46. He now takes Plaquenil, which effectively treats his arthritis. R. 40, 45.

Claimant also suffered from various respiratory problems. In October 2004, Claimant told his doctor at a yearly check-up that he suffered from asthma. R. 40. Claimant occasionally uses an inhaler to treat his alleged asthma, but can eliminate most of the symptoms by wearing a dust or paint mask, or avoiding the outdoors. R. 41. Claimant also suffered from nasal polyps for most of his life, which required him to breathe through his mouth at times. R. 42--43. As a result of the polyps, Claimant could not breathe through his nose at night, which led to poor sleep. R. 43. Claimant treated the polyps with Afrin, but fixed the problem with nasal surgery in 2006. R. 43--44.

Lastly, Claimant described his functional capabilities. At the time of the hearing, Claimant frequently drove himself, went on walks, and generally tried to move every day.

R. 31. In 2004, Claimant lived alone and would do all the work around the house, including cutting the grass, painting the house, and keeping up with the house. R. 38. He would also play golf in the summers, although he described summers as his "best days" when his medical problems would not affect him as much. Id. Claimant was also doing odd jobs, such as cutting hair, installing hardwood floors, and helping to build sheds. R. 35--36. When performing these jobs, however, he could only work for two to four days, before his fatigue forced him to take time off. R. 36, 48. Claimant generally described his energy level as low beginning in 2004. R. 47. This low energy level resulted in Claimant not going to the gym as much as he used to when he was younger, although he admits that taking some vitamins partially increased his energy level. R. 48.

2. Dr. John Cavenagh"Medical Expert

Dr. John Cavenagh, who practices internal medicine, testified as a medical expert.

R. 49--61, 144. After reviewing the medical exhibits and listening to Claimant's testimony, the ME found no objective medical evidence for significant functional impairments that existed in 2004 or earlier. R. 50--51. The ME examined medical evidence from the period when Claimant was last insured as well as more recent evidence. R. 49--61.

The ME first reviewed the medical evidence relating to Claimant's breathing problems. In January 2003, Claimant was diagnosed with bronchitis and benign prostatic hypertrophy. R. 50. Later in October 2004, Claimant complained of asthma and requested an inhaler. R. 51. In December 2005, emergency room doctors diagnosed Claimant with extreme nasal polyps with chronic sinusitis, and doctors performed surgery on those polyps one month later. Id.

The ME opined that Claimant's asthma did not appear limiting because there was no medical evidence-either in the form of emergency room visits or hospitalizations-for asthma. R. 51--52. In regards to the nasal polyps, the ME noted that while they were not diagnosed until 2006, it is reasonably certain they could have existed in 2004. R. 53. But without evidence that the polyps caused oxygen deficiency, the ME opined they would not limit Claimant's ability to perform ...


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