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Randolph Willis v. Commissioner of Social Security

September 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frazier, Magistrate Judge:


Plaintiff Randolph Willis filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying his April 29, 2006, applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Willis's applications after finding that he was not disabled. That decision became final when the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision.

1. Background

Plaintiff suffers from obesity, heart disease, emphysema, angina, sleep apnea, depression, lower back pain, and the effects of nerve reconstruction in his left arm. In the past he has worked as a driver, cashier, courier, and security guard. On April 29, 2006, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging that he became disabled on March 22, 2006.*fn1 Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, upon reconsideration, and after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The ALJ performed a sequential evaluation, finding at Step 4 that Plaintiff was not disabled because he could perform his past relevant work as those jobs were generally performed in the national economy. The Appeals Council declined to review that decision, leading to this action for judicial review.

The parties have adequately discussed Plaintiff's medical history in their briefs, so the Court will omit a comprehensive discussion of the administrative record and instead make note only of details particularly relevant to the issues raised by the parties.

Dr. Raymond Leung performed a consultative examination of Plaintiff in August 2006. He found that Plaintiff's gait was within normal limits, he could walk fifty feet unassisted, and he was able to heel walk, toe walk, and squat (Tr. 370). Tests indicated that Plaintiff had strong arm and grip strength with both arms, that he was able to oppose thumbs to fingers, and that he demonstrated no muscle atrophy (Tr. 370). A neurological examination produced results within normal limits, as did examination of Plaintiff's extremities (Tr. 370).

Dr. Lenore Gonzalez, a state agency physician, reviewed record evidence in September 2006. He concluded that Plaintiff could perform medium exertional work that required only limited use of his left arm, avoided climbing and frequent postural activities, and avoided concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation (Tr. 402-09).

Dr. Sajjan Nemani performed a polysomnography study in September 2006, the results of which supported a diagnosis of moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and mild leg movement disorder of sleep (Tr. 422-424). He recommended BiPAP for treatment of this condition.(Tr. 421).

In June 2007, Dr. Connor discussed Plaintiff's sleep apnea and noted that Plaintiff described severe fatigue, daytime somnolence, and falling asleep with any sort of sitting after meals (Tr. 455). Dr. Connor thought Plaintiff could lift and carry up to ten pounds, sit for fifteen minutes, and stand or walk for five minutes each, at a time.(Tr. 460-65). He also noted many of the same postural and environmental limitations mentioned by Dr. Gonzalez (Tr. 462-64).

Dr. Harvey Alburn (or perhaps Alpern) testified at the administrative hearing as a medical expert. Based on his review of the record, he concluded that if Plaintiff's sleep apnea and the periods of loss of consciousness that it allegedly caused were verified and accepted, then Plaintiff might meet Listing 12.02 for organic mental disorders (Tr. 24). He pointed out that, although Plaintiff's condition was a sleep disorder that could not be listed under pulmonary hypertension, Plaintiff could meet the listing if he experienced periods of loss of awareness (Tr. 25). Dr. Alburn added that if Plaintiff did meet the Listing, it should only be for a period of less than one year, perhaps totally, because symptom can be rapidly reversed once treated (Tr. 24). Based on the evidence available at the time of the administrative hearing, Dr. Alburn reached conclusions consistent with those of the examining physicians regarding Plaintiff's ability to work and his physical limitations. He noted that without further clinical demonstration of problems with Plaintiff's back, nothing on the record indicated that Plaintiff's functional limitations prevented him from lifting twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds occasionally, and standing, walking, or sitting six out of eight hours (Tr. 30).

A vocational expert, Gregory Jones, also testified at the administrative hearing and concluded that a person with Plaintiff's conditions and physical limitations could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work as a cashier, driver, and security guard (Tr. 40). Mr. Jones noted that Plaintiff was capable of performing these light unskilled and semi-skilled jobs because they required a medium level of exertion. In contrast, Mr. Jones found that Plaintiff could not perform his past job as a courier because that job required a heavy level of exertion.

Following the hearing, Plaintiff submitted two MRIs for review. The first, dated from July 2008, indicated degeneration and fraying of joints and muscles in Plaintiff's left shoulder. The second, performed the day of the hearing, showed minimal and mild degenerative arthritis of the joints in Plaintiff's lumbar spine (Tr. 525-26).

2. Judicial Review

Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Because the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner of ...

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