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James v. Saul

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

September 16, 2019

Ronnie James, Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          R. BRYAN HARWELL CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Ronnie James (“James”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”). The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers III, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision. [ECF No. 21].

         Factual Findings and Procedural History

         On January 13, 2014, James filed an application for DIB benefits, alleging that by virtue of a disabling condition, he became unable to work on July 19, 2013. He was fifty-five years old on the alleged disability onset date. James alleges he became unable to work due to upper and lower body joint/arthritis issues, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), anxiety, and bipolar disorder. [Tr. at 354]. James' medical history and testimony regarding his impairments have been adequately set forth in great detail in the R&R and reviewed by this Court. Briefly stated, James was diagnosed with COPD in June of 2012. [Tr. at 493]. He has been treated for anxiety since at least October 2013;. His medical records generally indicate a normal mood and affect, as well as minimal problems with concentration and understanding. [Tr. at 476; 344; 969;713; 918; 604; 736].[1] The records reveal that James is generally an active individual who handles many of the household chores, drives by himself, goes shopping, and is the sole caregiver for his grandson. [Tr. 308-87]. In some medical records, James describes having little energy, as well as experiencing joint pain and joint swelling. [Tr. at 479]. However, musculoskeletal exams during that time were normal. [Tr. at 480]. Dr. Kelly, a state agency consultant, examined James for mental impairments and found he had a normal gait, he had unrestricted social functioning, and his memory, attention and concentration appeared to be within normal limits. Her impressions were that James may suffer from adjustment disorder with depressed and anxious mood. [Tr. at 511]. Another state agency consultant, Dr. Rudnick, determined James had nonsevere impairments. [Tr. at 206]. These results were confirmed by Dr. Anderson and Dr. Lenrow, two other state agency consultants. [Tr. at 218-220]. Dr. Bell, a physician who saw James only one time completed a mental health questionnaire, but he was unable to provide any work-related limitations as he only saw James for one visit. [Tr. at 556]. Another treating physician, Dr. Moyd, also completed a mental health questionnaire in 2014 and determined that James had a good ability to complete basic activities of daily living and simple routine tasks, good ability to relate to others, and adequate ability to complete complex tasks. He diagnosed James with “stated forgetfulness.” [Tr. at 559].

         James' records indicate continued problems with shortness of breath, and on August 12, 2015 a pulmonary function test showed suspected moderate obstructive ventiliary defect. [Tr. at 676, 770]. In August of 3015, James was prescribed baclofen for fibromyalgia after complaining of joint pain and muscle aches and an exam revealed tender spots. [Tr. at 914]. He also began taking prednisone to treat fibromyalgia but was not interested in exercising to help relieve some of his pain. [Tr. at 909; 757]. In 2016, James continued to have relatively normal examination results. A March 2016 MRI showed disc space narrowing with minimal bulging discs at ¶ 2-5. [Tr. at 717, 997, 1076]. On July 28, 2016, James discussed disability paperwork with Dr. Moyd. In this paperwork, his fibromyalgia was assessed as “improved.” [Tr. at 854]. He underwent a right hallux cheilectomy on December 7, 2016. [Tr. at 696, 715]. Medical records indicate James was not always compliant with taking prescribed medication, such as Valium. In the records presented to the ALJ, his exams were generally normal, though one medical record indicated that James changed his reporting of his history throughout his exam. [Tr. at 1024]. In April of 2017, James reported to Dr. Moyd that he had aching pain in his back and that he felt a tingling sensation from his head to his toes. [Tr. at 1015-18]. At his hearing, James reported that while he still feels he has fibromyalgia, it is mild. [Tr. at 184-185].

         The Social Security Administration denied his application initially and on reconsideration, therefore James requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on April 28, 2017, where both James and a vocational expert gave testimony. Thereafter, the ALJ denied his claim on August 2, 2017, finding that he was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act, as amended.

         The ALJ's findings were as follows:

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 19, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.1571 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; fibromyalgia; depression; and anxiety (20 CFR 416.1520(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.1520(d), 416.1525, 416.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except no climbing, crawling, or balancing; no exposure to extreme hazards or extreme temperatures; no concentrated exposure to lung irritants; in a low stress setting with only occasional decision making or changes and only occasional interactions with the public.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on July 20, 1957 and was 55 years old, which is defined as an individual of advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 416.1563).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.1564).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant ...

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