DOUGLAS R. HILL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DAVE WHALIN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Douglas R. Hill has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). Hill applied for DIB and SSI on July 8, 2011, alleging that he was disabled as of April 24, 2011, due to severe degenerative disk disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder (Tr. 13-14). The Commissioner denied Hill's claims on initial consideration (Tr. 102-117, 120-134) and on reconsideration (Tr. 162-164, 165-167). Hill requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr. 7).
ALJ George A. Jacobs conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 12, 2012 (Tr. 52-84). Hill attended with his attorney, Trevor Smith (Tr. 52). Hill and vocational expert (VE) Tina Stambaugh testified at the hearing (Tr. 56-78, 78-84). Following the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Jacobs entered a hearing decision on Oct. 25, 2012, that found Hill is not disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act (Tr. 11-22).
In his adverse decision, ALJ Jacobs made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 24, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1571, et seq. and 416.971, et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, anxiety, depression, obsessive/compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that he must have the option to sit or stand throughout the workday while maintaining at least 30 minutes in a position; he cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds but can occasionally perform other postural activities; he cannot push or pull using the lower extremities; and he should avoid humidity, vibration, temperature extremes and hazards such as machinery and heights. He can perform only simple, repetitive tasks that involve no contact with the general public and no more than occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on May 10, 1960, and was 50-years-old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high-school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and 416.964).
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 transferrable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 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 can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from Feb. 24, 2011, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
(Tr. 13-22). Hill sought review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 7). The Appeals Council denied his request for review, finding no reason under the Rules to review ALJ Jacobs' decision (Tr. 1-4). The present lawsuit followed.
Examination of the hearing testimony and medical record reveals the following material facts. The Plaintiff, Douglas R. Hill, was born May 10, 1960 (Tr. 57). At the time of the hearing, he was 52 years old with a high school education and prior military service in the Army as a canon crewman (Tr. 59, 181, 212). Hill stands 6' tall and weighed 240 lbs. at the time of the hearing (Tr. 60).
Hill testified that he has not worked since his alleged onset date of April 24, 2011 (Tr. 60). Prior to that time, he had an extensive work history that included at least 10 prior jobs over a 15-year time period (Tr. 212). Among these various jobs, Hill identified past relevant work as a machine operator, a forklift driver, a banquet waiter, a die changer, a welder, a machine operator, a meat cutter, a cook, and a general construction laborer (Id.). Hill reported that while in high school he had vocational training in welding (Tr. 59). He also related prior employment at a printing company and at a sanitation company during his consultative psychological examination by Jessica Hewett, Psy.D., (Tr. 414).
During the hearing, Hill testified to a medical history that included a gunshot wound in the hip he received in 1992, when a family member shot him. The bullet ricocheted injuring his bowels (Tr. 61-62, 75-76, 419). This gunshot injury required Hill to undergo multiple colostomy surgeries that resulted in some loss of his colon (Tr. 419). As a result, Hill now suffers from "dumping syndrome, " a bowel condition that requires him to defecate five or six times during the day (Tr. 76). Despite this problem, however, Hill did not attribute it as being the cause of any loss of employment during the years that he worked multiple jobs from 1976 to 2011 (Id.).
Hill also testified during the administrative hearing to a history of low back pain (Tr. 61-64, 70, 74-75). Hill explained that x-ray examination of his back had confirmed the presence of degenerative disk disease in his lower back(Tr. 74). He estimated that as a result of his ongoing back pain he can only stand or sit for 10-15 minutes at a time and probably walk 2-3 blocks before he has to stop (Tr. 75). Hill wears a back brace daily in an effort to alleviate his constant pain, which he rates as being at a level 8 on a 1-10 pain scale (Tr. 61-62, 75). Hill, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, who had been sober for over a year at the time of the hearing, does not use narcotic medication for back pain relief (Tr. 62).
During a consultative physical examination by Dr. Mark Carter on Oct. 15, 2011 (Tr. 419-423), Hill related a history of low back pain since the gunshot incident in 1992. He described the pain a radiating down the front of his right leg to his foot without numbness (Tr. 419). Hill advised Dr. Carter, and similarly testified, that he could lift approximately 25 lbs., but his back pain prohibited him from repeatedly lifting 30 lbs. (Tr. 63-64, 419). Examination by Dr. Carter revealed Hill to have normal station and gait with no findings of radiculopathy or significant limitations in range of motion (Tr. 420-421). Examination of a prior lumbar spine xray confirmed the presence of moderate-to-marked disk space narrowing at the L5-S1 with mild anterior and mild-to-moderate posterior hypertrophic changes, but no scoliosis or spondylolisthesis (Id.). Hill exhibited negative straight leg raise testing and normal extremity strength and deep tendon reflexes despite marked degenerative disk disease at the L5-S1 (Tr. 422). Dr. Carter concluded, based upon his physical examination, that Hill remained able to "tolerate at least light work activity and occasional bending to lift and carry 30 lbs." (Tr. 423).
Aside from Hill's physical problems, he testified at the hearing to a number of emotional problems that affect his ability to work (Tr. 65-66, 71-74, 77). Hill explained that he suffers from manic depression and previously has been hospitalized for emotional problems on approximately five prior occasions (Tr. 65). At the time of the hearing, Hill was receiving counseling twice a month from Donna Ward, an APRN, at the Phoenix Health Center (Tr. 65-66, 286-299, 300-340, 343-370, 371-385, 386-404, 469-485). Review of Hill's prior medical records confirms his repeated prior hospitalizations at Ten Broeck Hospital for treatment of drug and alcohol abuse in 2000, 2002 and 2006 (Tr. 286-299, 300-340, 341-42, 343-370). Hill also received inpatient treatment at the Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, Indiana, for substance abuse in 2009 and 2011 (Tr. 371-385, ...