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Izzi v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 19, 2019




          David A. Ruiz United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Paul Daniel Izzi (“Izzi” or “claimant”) challenges the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1381 et seq. (“Act”). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The issue before the court is whether the final decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, conclusive. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's final decision should be affirmed.


         Izzi filed applications for SSI benefits on December 4, 2014, and for a period of disability and DIB on December 15, 2014; the applications alleged disability beginning October 20, 2011. (R. 9, Transcript (“tr.”), at 15, 230-231, 237-240, 260- 271.) The claimant subsequently amended his onset date to December 31, 2012. Id. at 15, 258. Izzi's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 9, tr., at 15, 94-108, 109-123, 124-125, 126-140, 141-155, 156-157.) Thereafter, Izzi filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (R. 9, tr., at 182-183.)

         The ALJ held the hearing on January 26, 2017. (R. 9, tr., at 44-81.) Izzi appeared at the hearing, was represented by counsel, and testified. (Id. at 46, 47-71.) A vocational expert (“VE”) attended the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 46, 71-78.) On September 20, 2017, the ALJ issued her decision, applying the standard five-step sequential analysis to determine whether Izzi was disabled. (R. 9, tr., at 15-34; see generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a).) Based on her review, the ALJ concluded Izzi was not disabled. Id. at 34.

         The Appeals Council denied Izzi's request for review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 9, tr., at 1-3.) Izzi now seeks judicial review of that final decision, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have completed briefing. Izzi presents a single legal issue for the court's review: “The ALJ's analysis of treating physician Dr. Bell's medical opinions violated the treating physician rule.” (R. 12, PageID #: 1357.)


         Izzi was born on October 4, 1987, and was 25 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (R. 9, tr., at 32, 47, 230.) Accordingly, Izzi was considered a younger individual age 18-44 for Social Security purposes. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563, 416.963. He has at least a high school education, and is able to communicate in English. (R. 9, tr., at 32, 48, 260, 262.) Izzi's past work includes a composite job-collector and furniture rental consultant-and a retail store manager. (R. 9, tr., at 72-73.)


         Disputed issues will be discussed as they arise in Izzi's brief alleging error by the ALJ. Izzi filed applications for a period of disability and DIB and for SSI benefits in early December 2014 (R. 9, tr., at 15, 230-231, 237-240), and listed physical or mental conditions that limit his ability to work as: “pulmonary embolism, pulmonary infarction, blood clots, anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, [and] depression.” Id. at 261. Izzi's assignment of error alleges that the ALJ did not properly weigh treating physician Dr. Bell's medical opinion(s). (R. 12, PageID #: 1357.)

         A. Dr. Bell

         Izzi has been treating with Jerry C. Bell, D.O., since at least June 2013. See, e.g., R. 9, tr., at 23, 618-620, 956-959. On June 6, 2013, Izzi presented to Dr. Bell to have an INR[2] (international normalized ratio) evaluation, and for a refill of oxycodone. (R. 9, tr., at 618, 956.) Dr. Bell noted that Izzi had a history of multiple pulmonary embolisms, neuropathy, and fatigue. Id. Izzi rated his pain as 9/10, although the doctor indicated he was in “no acute distress, ” despite being fatigued and in obvious pain. Id. Izzi exhibited tenderness with palpitation of the lumbar region. Id. On examination, Izzi had full range of motion and no edema in his legs and feet, and the doctor assessed his arms and hands as unremarkable. Id. Dr. Bell assessed the claimant with pulmonary embolism and infarction, fatigue, myalgia, hypothyroidism, along with back pain, and he prescribed a regime of several medications. Id. Izzi continued to treat with Dr. Bell throughout the remainder of 2013 and through at least December 2016. See generally R. 9, tr., at 23-26; R. 12, PageID #: 1347-1354.

         During a follow-up appointment with Dr. Bell on February 24, 2014, Izzi reported improvement in leg pain and edema, and swelling of his feet and legs was better, after an increase in the dosage of Percocet earlier that month. (R. 9, tr., at 23, 907, 913.) By March 26, 2014, Izzi reported that his back pain was stable. Id. at 24, 534. On July 18, 2014, Izzi reported his pain as 0/10, and Dr. Bell indicated his hypertension and chronic pain were stable, continuing Percocet and other medications. Id. at 23, 889. The doctor noted that Izzi's peripheral neuropathy was stable on October 3, 2014, and August 18, 2015. Id. at 23, 862, 886.

         Izzi presented to Dr. Bell on December 8, 2015, for a follow-up appointment after an emergency room visit on December 3. (R. 9, tr., at 1038; see infra, and see generally Id. at 1119-1120, 1126, 1133.) Dr. Bell noted that Izzi had a history of neuropathic pain, chronic back pain, and a bulging disc. Id. at 1038. On examination, Izzi had lumbar paraspinal muscle tenderness and lumbrosacral region tenderness. Id. Dr. Bell refilled his Percocet. Id. at 1039. Claimant reported reduced pain on January 5, 2016, although he continued to have some cramps in his left leg. Id. at 1036.

         On February 8, 2016, Dr. Bell completed three forms: A one-page form, entitled “Off-Task/Absenteeism Questionnaire, ” another one-page “Pain Questionnaire, ” along with a one-page form, “Medical Statement - Physical Abilities and Limitations.” (R. 9, tr., at 1044-1046.) On the off-task form, Dr. Bell indicated that Izzi would be off-task at least 20% of the time at work, and his impairments or treatment would cause him to be absent from work more than four times per month. Id. at 1044. He noted Izzi's impairments included “neuropathy, seizure disorder, depression, [and] chronic back pain.” Id. Dr. Bell indicated Izzi's “pain will sometimes cause distraction, ” and that the medication side effects cause “fatigue at times.” Id. Izzi has chronic pain and neuropathy in his lower extremities from a bulging disc in his back. Id. The pain questionnaire also identified neuropathy, chronic back pain and chronic leg pain as sources of claimant's pain. Id. at 1045. Dr. Bell opined that Izzi's ability to do basic work-related activities is impacted because he is unable to remain in one position for extended periods, and would need to change positions frequently. Id. The doctor indicated that the claimant's pain would constantly interfere with his attention and concentration. Id.

         On the medical statement, Dr. Bell indicated that Izzi was diagnosed with neuropathy and back pain. (R. 9, tr., at 1046.) The doctor marked that Izzi was capable of standing for less than 15 minutes at a time, and for less than one hour during a workday. Id. Izzi could sit for less than 15 minutes at a time, for four hours during a workday, lift ten pounds occasionally, five pounds frequently, never bend, stoop, balance, or work around dangerous equipment. Id. Dr. Bell opined that Izzi could occasionally perform fine or gross manipulation with his hands, occasionally raise his arms over his shoulders, and occasionally operate a motor vehicle. Id.

         Dr. Bell marked that Izzi would occasionally need to elevate his legs above waist-level. (R. 9, tr., at 1046.) The doctor opined that Izzi suffered from severe pain, and would be absent due to his impairments more than three times per month. Id.

         During a June 1, 2016 medication check with Dr. Bell, Izzi stated that his medications helped decrease his pain, and relieved anxiety, although he continued to have feet pain. (R. 9, tr., at 23, 1262.) The claimant reported no difficulty walking or with balance. Id. Izzi reported feeling well at an appointment with Dr. Bell on August 23, 2016; he reported taking medications (oxycodone and others) as directed. Id. at 23, 1259. Dr. Bell indicated that claimant appeared well, was in no acute distress, and his conditions of chronic leg pain and peripheral neuropathy were stable. Id. He did exhibit lumbar tenderness with palpitation, but there was no edema in his legs. Id.

         B. Other ...

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