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Rowland v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 31, 2017


          George C. Smith Judge.



         Plaintiff, Charles Willis Rowland, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for social security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors be OVERRULED, and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Prior Proceedings

         Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income on July 12, 2012, and filed for disability benefits on July 26, 2012. (Doc. 9, Tr. 201-203, 212, PAGEID #: 239-241, 250). In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of November 23, 2008.[1] (Id.). His application was denied initially on November 1, 2012 (Id. at Tr. 125, PAGEID #: 163), and upon reconsideration on February 4, 2013. (Id. at Tr. 134, PAGEID #: 172). Administrative Law Judge Edmund Round (the “ALJ”) held a hearing by video teleconference on November 10, 2014 (id. at Tr. 31, PAGEID #: 69), after which he denied benefits in a written decision on December 8, 2014 (id. at Tr. 9, PAGEID #: 47). That decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review on March 24, 2016. (Id. at Tr. 1, PAGEID #: 39).

         Plaintiff filed this case on March 31, 2016 (Doc. 1), and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on August 5, 2016 (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Specific Errors on October 6, 2016 (Doc. 13), the Commissioner responded on November 25, 2016 (Doc. 14), and Plaintiff replied on December 5, 2016 (Doc. 15).

         B. Testimony at the Administrative Hearings

         At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two years old with a ninth grade education. (Doc. 9, Tr. 36-37, 74-75). During the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified about his former work framing houses, finishing concrete slabs, and working at a steel company. (Id. at Tr. 37-39, PAGEID #: 75-77). Plaintiff described his biggest impediment to his ability to work was “getting along with people” (id. at Tr. 43, PAGEID #: 81), but indicated he had not sought mental health counseling or treatment (id. at Tr. 44, PAGEID #: 82).

         When asked to describe the physical impairments that interfere with his ability to work, Plaintiff stated he has “a lot of pain in [his] back” that he would rate as a constant five or six, but a ten on a pain scale from one to ten when it's at its worst. (Id. at Tr. 45-46, PAGEID #: 83-84). Plaintiff indicated he is not currently taking any medication for the pain, but stated he had taken oxycodone and OxyContin in the past. (Id. at Tr. 47-48, PAGEID #: 85-86). Plaintiff also said he has sharp pain in his knee almost daily (id. at Tr. 51, PAGEID #: 89) and that he has pain in his left shoulder “about every day” (id. at Tr. 52, PAGEID #: 90). Further, Plaintiff explained that he is blind in his left eye and that it “just sort of came on.” (Id. at Tr. 53, PAGEID #: 91). Plaintiff explained that even with glasses “the only thing [he] can see out of [the left eye] is blurry. It's like real foggy.” (Id. at Tr. 53-54, PAGEID #: 91-92). However, Plaintiff stated he successfully renewed his driver's license, despite the vision issues he alleged. (Id. at Tr. 54, PAGEID #: 92).

         In terms of daily activities, Plaintiff stated he drinks coffee in the morning, drives over to a horse barn and racetrack owned by friends, cooks, and feeds his cat. (Id. at Tr. 55-57, PAGEID #: 93-95).

         C. Relevant Medical Background

         Although unrelated to the impairments at issue, two hospital visits in the year of the alleged onset date are worth noting. First, Plaintiff was treated at the Knox Community Hospital Emergency Room (“ER”) on January 6, 2008, complaining of tooth pain. (Doc. 9, Tr. 303, PAGEID #: 341). Plaintiff requested a prescription for hydrocodone but was given Amoxil and Vicodin instead. (Id. at Tr. 303-04, PAGEID #: 341-42). A few months later, Plaintiff was seen at the same ER after being struck in the head with a floor joist. (Id. at Tr. 293, PAGEID #: 331). Upon the doctor prescribing him Ultram, Plaintiff argued that he wanted something stronger and that the prescribed medication was “worthless.” (Id. at Tr. 296-97, PAGEID #: 334-35). After the doctor explained to Plaintiff that because of his head injury, he did not want him to take anything stronger, Plaintiff signed his discharge, yelling expletives as he left. (Id.).

         On June 20, 2008, Plaintiff had a CT scan of his lumbrosacral spine. (Id. at Tr. 250, PAGEID #: 288). The scan revealed normal alignment and curvature of the spine with no fractures or dislocations. (Id.). There was mild concentric disc bulging at the L3-L4 level with minimal impingement on the exiting L4 nerve root. (Id.). Additionally, there were minimal degenerate changes of the facet joints and the L5-S1 level showed mild facet arthrosis. (Id.).

         Plaintiff presented to the Knox Community Hospital ER on December 15, 2011, after twisting his right knee several days prior. (Id. at Tr. 281, PAGEID #: 319). A physical exam revealed that Plaintiff was weight-bearing, had no swelling, and exhibited full range of motion. (Id. at Tr. 281, PAGEID #: 319). An MRI taken the same day of his knee and ankle revealed no abnormal findings, and showed no fractures, dislocations or evidence of bone or joint disease. (Id. at Tr. 279, PAGEID #: 317). Plaintiff was discharged and given prescriptions for Vicodin and Motrin. (Id. at Tr. 285, PAGEID #: 323).

         Plaintiff returned to the ER on February 23, 2012, complaining of back pain that was made worse after “mucking out [horse] stalls last night.” (Id. at Tr. 267, 274, PAGEID #: 305, 312). Plaintiff reported taking Motrin and oxycodone in the past to control pain and discomfort. (Id. at Tr. 277, PAGEID #: 315). After examination, Plaintiff was diagnosed with an acute lumbrosacral strain, his condition was noted as “good, ” and he was sent home with prescriptions for Vicodin, Amoxil, Motrin, and Flexeril. (Id. at Tr. 269, 272, PAGEID #: 307, 310).

         On April 27, 2012, Plaintiff went to the ER yet again, complaining of low back pain after shoveling horse stalls. (Id. at Tr. 255, PAGEID #: 293). Plaintiff was diagnosed with a lumbar strain and muscle spasms (id.), and was proscribed Vicodin, Flexeril, and Naprosyn. (Id. at Tr. 260, PAGEID #: 298). His medical records made several references to the fact that this was an “acute” injury, as opposed to chronic. (Id. at Tr. 265, PAGEID #: 303).

         Plaintiff saw Dr. Sushil M. Sethi for his shoulder, back, and knee pain on August 15, 2012. (Id. at Tr. 350, PAGEID #: 388). At the appointment, Plaintiff reported having taken no medication at all for three years, although he admitted that he used to take OxyContin, Percocet and Soma. (Id.). The physical examination revealed that Plaintiff's left knee had no effusion or laxity of ligaments, and that Plaintiff walked with a normal gait, was able to walk on tiptoes and heels, and could squat. (Id. at Tr. 351, PAGEID #: 389). Both shoulders showed mild tenderness in the AC joint with bony crepitus at . (Id. at Tr. 351-52, PAGEID #: 389-90). The cervical spine showed mild tenderness at the C6-7 level but there was no swelling, redness or deformity and no curvature abnormality. (Id. at Tr. 352, PAGEID #: 390). It was also noted that Plaintiff's right eye was 20/20 and his left eye was 20/200, yet he arrived at the examination with no glasses. (Id. at Tr. 351, PAGEID #: 389). Overall, Dr. Sethi opined that there were minimal arthritic findings and no neuromuscular deficits. (Id. at Tr. 352, PAGEID #: 390). In terms of work limitations, Dr. Sethi stated Plaintiff could sit 4-6 hours, stand 3-4 hours, and walk 3-4 hours in an 8-hour shift, as well as lift and carry 20-25 pounds frequently. (Id.).

         On September 18, 2012, Plaintiff saw Dr. Steven Meyer for a psychological evaluation to assess his mental status. (Id. at Tr. 358, PAGEID #: 396). When asked about the nature of his disability, Plaintiff replied that “he has back problems, has been in prison four times, and cannot keep work and needs to go to a doctor.” (Id.). Plaintiff “denied having any problems getting along with coworkers or supervisors in the past.” (Id. at Tr. 363, PAGEID #: 401). In terms of daily activities, Plaintiff stated he drinks coffee, watches the news, eats breakfast, goes out to search for aluminum cans, his sister stops by, he works in his garden, watches television, and talks to neighbors. (Id. at Tr. 359, PAGEID #: 397).

         Plaintiff was alert during the evaluation, but presented as confused at times and evidenced mild comprehension problems. (Id.). Plaintiff reported that he had never been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, has never been involved in outpatient counseling, and has never had psychological testing performed. (Id. at Tr. 360, PAGEID #: 398). During testing, Plaintiff was cooperative for the most part, although attention and concentration were disrupted and Plaintiff was distracted. (Id. at Tr. 361, PAGEID #: 399). It was noted that Plaintiff had “no difficulty with his vision.” (Id.). Plaintiff obtained a Full Scale IQ score of 55 during the evaluation, which falls in the Extremely Low range of functioning, although Dr. Meyer noted that the score appeared to be “a low estimate of his abilities.” (Id. at Tr. 361-62, PAGEID #: 400-01). Ultimately, Dr. Meyer diagnosed Plaintiff with Depressive Disorder NOS, PTSD, Personality Disorder NOS, Learning Disorder NOS, and Borderline Intellectual Functioning. (Id. at Tr. 362, PAGEID #: 400).

         Plaintiff visited the Knox Community Hospital ER again on January 8, 2016, after falling on ice and twisting his left knee. (Id. at Tr. 365, PAGEID #: 403). The ER records show that Plaintiff had no deformity, no swelling or effusion, and full range of motion, albeit with pain. (Id.). Plaintiff's x-rays were normal and he was diagnosed with a knee ...

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