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Secrest v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 6, 2017

JAMES B. SECREST, Plaintiff,

          Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. Chief Judge



         Plaintiff James B. Secrest filed this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (the “Commissioner”) denial of his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental social security income. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's statement of errors be OVERRULED and judgment be entered in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Prior Proceedings

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental social security income on March 22, 2012, alleging disability beginning on August 28, 2009. (Doc. 12, Tr. 199-211, PAGEID #: 244-56). His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Id. at PAGEID #: 174-80, 184-95). Plaintiff requested a hearing, and the Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “the ALJ”) denied benefits. (Id. at PAGEID #: 82-98). The ALJ found, first, that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015. (Id. at PAGEID #: 87). Next, he determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of August 28, 2009. (Id.). In the second step of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arthrosis of the left ankle and residuals from left ankle fusion. (Id.). The ALJ found that these impairments did not, at any time, meet or equal the requirements of any section of the Listing of Impairments. (Id. at PAGEID #: 88).

         The ALJ further found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with additional limitations. (Id. at PAGEID #: 88-89). The ALJ ultimately found Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in the national economy in significant numbers and Plaintiff thus was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and denied benefits on July 21, 2014. (Id. at PAGEID #: 93-95). That decision became the Commissioner's final decision on December 16, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff then brought this action. (See Doc. 12 (administrative record); Doc. 13 (statement of errors); Doc. 17 (the Commissioner's response); Doc. 18 (Plaintiff's reply)).

         B. The Record

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing on June 26, 2014. He testified that a three-wheeler accident in 1992 harmed his left leg and ankle and that over the course of the next 17 years, “the conditions and the pain and everything got to the point where [he] couldn't do [his] job anymore.” (Id. at PAGEID #: 104). He also testified that he worked primarily as a truck driver during the past 15 years and attended classes to obtain his associate's degree from 2009 until 2011. (Id.) As part of those classes, he participated in a welding lab, which required him to be on his feet for four to five hours per day. (Id. at PAGEID #: 105). From November 2011 until February 2012, he attempted to work a factory job, but Plaintiff testified that the pain and swelling in his foot were too great to continue the employment. (Id. at PAGEID #: 107). Plaintiff stated that he accompanies his daughters while they hunt, but he can no longer participate in outdoor activities. (Id. at PAGEID #: 113-14). He likewise testified that he is unable to perform household chores. (Id. at PAGEID #: 114). Plaintiff described his pain as feeling like “someone took a metal rod that was heated cherry red and shoved it through the bottom of my foot all the way up to my lower back.” (Id. at PAGEID #: 109). For relief, he elevates his foot and takes Ibuprofen and Vicodin. (Id. at PAGEID #: 116-17).

         2. Relevant Medical Records And Assessments

         The medical records show that Plaintiff complained of left calf and ankle pain in June 2009, but, at that time, he could not think of an aggravating event. (Doc. 12, Tr. 308, PAGEID #: 354). An examination revealed no swelling, but there was tenderness in the posterior aspects of the ankle and calf muscle. (Id.). He was discharged with Ibuprofen, Medrol pack, and Vicodin, and instructed to “follow up[with the doctor] in a couple of days if not back to normal.” (Id. at PAGEID #: 355).

         The next medical record is dated August 6, 2010. (Id. at PAGEID #: 359). Plaintiff again complained of left ankle pain and, this time, noted the 1992 three-wheeler accident. (Id.) He was assessed with osteoarthrosis that was described as “nothing significantly severe.” (Id. at PAGEID #: 360). An x-ray of Plaintiff's left foot performed on August 6, 2010, revealed no evidence of acute fracture, dislocation, or significant arthritic changes. (Id. at PAGEID #: 361).

         According to the records, Plaintiff reported on November 29, 2010, that his leg pain had worsened. (Id. at PAGEID #: 384). That record also notes “[d]eer hunting this am and going back today.” (Id.) On October 21, 2011, Plaintiff reported that he was satisfied with the medications he was taking and did not want to try anything different at that time. (Id. at PAGEID #: 372). On March 20, 2012, however, he complained of left ankle pain ...

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