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James E. Bielefeldt v. Carolyn Colvin

May 17, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole


The Plaintiff, James E. Bielefeldt, seeks review of the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration's ("Agency") final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act") as well as his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. Mr. Bielefeldt requests that the court reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.


On July 16, 2007, Mr. Bielefeldt applied for DIB and SSI. (Administrative Record ("R") 19). On both applications, he alleged that he has been disabled since February 24, 2005, and attributed his disability to back pain post-lumber laminectomy, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Id. However, both applications were denied initially on October 17, 2007, and then again upon reconsideration on February 27, 2008. (R. 1). Mr. Bielefeldt pursued his claims by filing a timely written request for hearing on April 28, 2008. (R. 136).

On September 3, 2009, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") presided over a hearing at which Mr. Bielefeldt, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at. (R. 19). Also present was Pamela Tucker, an impartial vocational expert. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 17, 2010, denying Mr. Bielefeldt's application for DIB and SSI. (R. 19-28). Mr. Bielefeldt filed a timely appeal on July 14, 2011, but the Appeals Council denied his request, making the ALJ's decision final. (R.1)


A. The Vocational Evidence

Mr. Bielefeldt was born on November 16, 1963, thus he was 46 at the time of the hearing. (R. 46). He lives in a one-story ranch home with his wife and daughter. (R. 48). Mr. Bielefeldt completed high school, and then received vocational training to become a copier repairman. (R. 51). Until his injury, Mr. Bielefeldt was a copier technician with Image Tech for 9 years. (R. 53-54). Prior to this, he held various positions, including technician and pizza deliveryman, and he served in the armed forces. (R. 52, 58, 61). Mr. Bielefeldt has been unemployed since February 24, 2005, but he does volunteer work with an organization called Treasured Friends. (R. 61-62).


The Medical Evidence Mr. Bielefeldt contends that he is eligible for DIB and SSI due to his back pain status post lumbar laminectomy, his diabetes mellitus, and his obesity. On February 10, 2006, Mr. Bielefeldt underwent a lumbar decompression laminectomy at L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. (R. 226, 228). Following his surgery, he began physical therapy. (R. 241, 246). After a few months, he noticed some improvements. His physical therapist indicated that he demonstrated the ability to lift 20-50 pounds, and to perform work at a medium to heavy level, with some postural limitations. Id.

As time progressed, Mr. Bielefeldt's abilities became more limited, but generally they have remained consistent until June 2008. (R. 266, 307). Over the course of his treatment, Mr. Bielefeldt has received several evaluations from his personal doctors, and two Residual Functioning Capacity ("RFC") assessments from third parties. (R. 279, 299, 334). Initially, his doctor reports indicated that he was unable to work, but by November 2006, his condition changed, and he was permitted to work with the limitation that he could not lift over 40 pounds. (R. 279). Mr. Bielefeldt's condition and limitations remained the same until at least March 2007. (R. 270, 273). His physician, Dr. Payne, repeatedly reported that Mr. Bielefeldt was capable of performing "medium to heavy work" and lifting up to 60 pounds occasionally. (R. 246-61). In an April 2007 report, Dr. Payne added the requirement that Mr. Bielefeldt be allowed to change position every 15 minutes per hour. (R. 266).

Mr. Bielefeldt had a consultative examination with Dr. Stanley Rabinowitz on October 1, 2007. The doctor noted that Mr. Bielefeldt was a non-insulin-dependent diabetic and was maintaining his glucose levels with oral medication. (R. 302). He noted Mr. Bielefeldt rated his average back pain at 3-4 out of 10. (R. 303). Range of motion in the lumbar spine was limited, but straight leg raising was negative bilaterally in the sitting position. It was positive on the left in the supine position. (R. 304). Reflexes and motor strength were normal. (R. 304).

Dr. Pilapil then reviewed the medical record on behalf of the Agency in October 2007. (R. 299). The doctor indicated that Mr. Bielefeldt retained the ability to perform light work. Id. He also noted that Mr. Bielefeldt was restricted to occasionally lifting 20 pounds, standings/sitting/walking to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, never climbing ladders, and no limitations on the amount he could push or pull. (R. 293-94).

Following this assessment, on December 4, 2007, Dr. Payne submitted a report that indicated that Mr. Bielefeldt could not work above ground level or around high speed machinery. (R. 307). He also could not climb, squat, or lift/push/pull over 20 lbs. Id. However, he did determine that he could work in a sitting only job if he could shift every two hours. Id.

On December 29, 2007, an MRI revealed degenerative disc disease at multiple levels of the lumbar spine, and moderate disc protrusion at L5-S1. (R. 320). There was neural foraminal stenosis, but no central canal stenosis. (R. 320). In the wake of the report, on January 3, 2008, Dr. Payne reiterated lifting limits of 20 pounds with the same postural limitations from December 4, 2007. (R. 329).

In February 2008, Dr. Patey, performed another review for the Agency. (R. 337). Dr. Patey indicated that Mr. Bielefeldt could occasionally lift 20 pounds, stand, walk or sit about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, occasionally balance, stoop or kneel, and never crouch or climb ladders. (R. 337-39). He also noted that Mr. Bielefeld should not be exposed to extreme cold or hazards. (R. 341). Within his report, Dr. Patey referenced the MRI administered by Dr. Payne indicating multi-level degenerative disc disease, and his recommended limitations of not lifting over 20 pounds with some postural limitations.

(R. 344).

Finally, in June 2008, Dr. Payne completed a medical evaluation that placed Mr. Bielefeldt on even further restriction. (R. 326-348). He limited Mr. Bielefeldt to only lifting less than 5 pounds. (R. 326). He also stated that his standing and sitting needed to be limited to approximately 2 hours out of an 8-hour day. (R. 347). Dr. Payne also indicated that Mr. Bielefeldt needed to undergo a lumbar fusion due to his unstable lumbar spine. (R. 348).

Within these reports, the doctors have consistently noted that Mr. Bielefeldt experienced varying levels of pain. (R. 263, 279, 363, 365). While his pain levels fluctuated, sometimes he did not experience any increase in pain at all. (R. 278, 288, 365). Generally, Mr. Bielefeldt has stated that his medications and treatments have greatly helped. Id. After initial epidural treatments were unsuccessful, Mr. Bielefeldt was prescribed various medications, including Oxycontin, Avinza, Lyrica, Vicodin, Tramadol, Vicoprofen and long-acting Morphine. (R. 274, 277, 288, 372). At doctor visits, Mr. Bielefeldt suggested that Oxycontin was the most effective, and he rarely reported any side effects. (R. 84, 352, 355, 360, 363). At the time of the hearing, Mr. Bielefeldt stated that he was taking Tramadol and Vicoprofen. (R. 405). The records indicate that his most recent doctor visits have primarily been for medication refills. (R. 398-99).

C. The Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. The Plaintiff's Testimony

Mr. Bielefeldt testified that he is 46 years old, 6'3", and weighs approximately 390 pounds. (R. 46, 71). He also testified that he has a driver's license, and no restrictions on his driving abilities. (R. 50). However, he noted that sometimes he finds it difficult to drive for long periods of time, but that he drove 45 minute to the hearing that day. (R. 50-51).

At the hearing, Mr. Bielefeldt testified that he graduated from high school, and received vocational training as a copier repairman. (R. 51) He explained that he was a copier technician who specialized in high-end or high-speed copiers, until he was injured in January 2005. (R. 53). On the day he was injured, Mr. Bielefeldt was working on a 7075 Konica. (R. 54). That day, he pulled out the machine to get to the back, and felt a muscle pulling in his back. Id. Although he did not feel great, he continued to work, and the next day he was in terrible pain. (R. 55). He stated that he went to his doctor's office a day or two after the incident, and his doctor prescribed him pain pills and time off. Id. Mr. Bielefeldt testified that per his doctor's direction, he took 4 days off, but when he went to work to turn in his doctor's note, he was fired on the spot. (R. 55-56).

While working at Image Tech, Mr. Bielefeldt moved machines that weighed approximately 500-800 pounds. (R. 56). He also disconnected finishers and high capacity cassettes that weighed about 150 to 200 pounds, and took out process units that weighed about 150 pounds. (R. 57). He disassembled machines, replaced used parts, and then tested the machines. Id. He explained that while diagnosing a machine, he was usually bending over or kneeling because everything he worked on was lower than his waist. Id. Mr. Bielefeldt testified that sometimes he would have to sit on the floor to examine parts that were found lower ...

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