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Coffey v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Lexington Division

July 2, 2014

DARRELL G. COFFEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

The plaintiff, Darrell G. Coffey, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Coffey filed his claim for benefits on August 16, 2010, alleging a disability beginning on July 22, 2010. His claim was denied initially on September 29, 2010, and upon reconsideration on November 15, 2010. He then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 3, 2011.

At the time of the alleged onset of disability, Coffey was 42 years old and has a limited education. (AR 20). He claims to be disabled due to a combination of physical and mental impairments. In his original request for benefits, Coffey claimed he was disabled due to physical conditions, which included degenerative disc disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, status post broken right hip, status post head trauma due to a car wreck, and a torn ligament on his right shoulder. (AR 156). After initially being denied benefits, Coffey made further claims that he had mood swings, was stressed, and had difficulty remembering things. (AR 206). Then in a subsequent disability report, Coffey claimed he was forgetful. (AR 214). But when completing his function report, the only difficulties Coffey complained of stemmed from neck and back pain. (AR 185-93).

Coffey testified during the administrative hearing that he suffered from depression, although he had not sought treatment for any mental health problems until shortly before the hearing, (AR 42-43, 48, 61). To this end, Coffey visited the Health Now Clinic on August 23, 2011 and obtained a letter from psychiatric nurse practitioner Deborah Whitehouse. In her letter, Whitehouse stated that the plaintiff reported losing weight, sleep difficulties, and other symptoms indicative of depression. Whitehouse diagnosed Coffey with panic disorder and major depressive disorder. (AR 313), This is the only treatment note from the Health Now Clinic, as Coffey did not seek any treatment for mental health difficulties until just before his hearing.

The record also indicates that Coffey's primary physician, Adam Hall, D.O., never diagnosed him with a mental condition. Dr. Hall's treatment notes indicate that Coffey did not complain of depression, denied any malaise, and stated he was feeling "generally well" other than some poor sleeping and chronic neck and low back pain, (AR 244, 246, 248). The only deviation from these notes is that Coffey indicated to Dr. Hall he had taken a Xanax from his wife after suffering a loss in his family. (AR 244, 246, 248).

In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), the regulations provide a five-step sequential process which the ALJ must follow. 20 C.F.R § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997). The five steps, in summary, are as follows:

(1) If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
(2) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, her impairment must be severe before she can be found disabled.
(3) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not disabled.
(5) Even if the claimant's impairment does prevent her from doing past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates her residual functional capacity and vocational factors ...

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