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Ras Walker v. Appeals Council

December 15, 2011

RAS WALKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
APPEALS COUNCIL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Ras Walker ("Walker"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Walker and the Commissioner filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Walker's motion is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural History

On November 9, 2006, Walker filed a Title XVI application for SSI and a Title II application for a period of disability and DIB. After conducting a hearing, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied Walker's applications on January 21, 2010.

On February 11, 2010, Walker appealed the ALJ's decision. In support of his appeal, Walker submitted additional medical evidence of his condition, which was accepted and considered by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council ultimately denied Walker's request for review on October 25, 2010. Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Walker filed the present action on January 10, 2011.

II. Medical Evidence

A. Physical Impairments

From 2006 to 2007, Walker received treatment for uncontrolled diabetes, back pain, and keloids. Diagnostic testing of Walker's spine in 2006 revealed normal findings, and a podiatric examination in January 2007 showed no pain of any joints, good range of motion, and normal neurological findings.

In February 2007, Dr. Mahesh Shah ("Dr. Shah") conducted a consultive examination of Walker. During this visit, Walker reported problems with keloids, diabetes, vision, back pain, asthma, and depression. Dr. Shah found multiple keloids on Walker's body but no evidence of infection. Dr. Shah also observed mild tenderness of Walker's back, but noted that Walker's gait was normal, he had a full range of motion of all joints, and he could bear his own weight, squat, and get on and off the examination table. In March 2007, a state agency reviewing physician determined that Walker could perform work at the medium exertional level.

Dr. Azazuddin Ahmed ("Dr. Ahmed"), Walker's treating physician, diagnosed Walker with osteoarthritis, left knee pain, diabetes, and depression. In treatment notes from November 2007, Dr. Ahmed stated that Walker was unable to return to work due to pain. An x-ray of Walker's left foot in December 2007 confirmed what appeared to be early osteoarthritis.

In several treatment notes from late 2007 through 2008, Dr. Ahmed repeatedly stated that Walker suffered from depression, asthma, and degenerative joint disease in his back and knees. Dr. Ahmed also commented that Walker "needs some help with food stamps and disability determination." Despite Walker's complaints of severe back and knee pain, January and April 2008 treatment notes indicate that Walker did not have any focal neurological deficits, and straight-leg raising tests were negative. In December 2008, Dr. Ahmed drafted a letter stating that Walker had severe osteoarthritis and required a cane for ambulation. Dr. Ahmed concluded that Walker was unable to work for at least one year.

Walker underwent surgery to remove two keloids in April 2009 and postoperative notes indicate that he was recovering well. Walker subsequently reported shoulder pain, though a May 2009 treatment note indicted that an x-ray of his right shoulder was negative.

B. Mental Impairments

In November 2006, Walker was hospitalized for five days after consuming half a bottle of ibuprofen. Treatment notes indicate that he suffered from suicidal ideation, a history of depression, diabetes, and multiple keloids. Walker had not been taking any medication for his depression at the time and he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana use.

Walker underwent a psychiatric evaluation in January 2007, where he stated that he had not felt suicidal since November 2006, though he was experiencing low motivation and decreased energy. A mental status exam found no psychological symptoms in the areas of appearance, behavior and attitude, mood and affect, perception, and intellectual and cognitive functioning. Walker denied depression ...


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