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Reinhardt v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 17, 2014

JOHN L. REINHARDT, Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Currently pending before the Court for consideration is Petitioner John Reinhardt's ("Petitioner") Petition for Review (Dkt. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed June 24, 2013. The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record ("AR"), and for the reasons that follow, will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on February 16, 2010, alleging disability onset on November 23, 2006, and claiming disability caused by hypertension and chest pain, gout, insomnia, headaches, arthritis, and memory loss. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was conducted on August 18, 2011, by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) James Sherry. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and vocational expert Jinnie Lawson, ALJ Sherry issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on September 16, 2011. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on April 26, 2013.

Petitioner appealed this final decision to the Court on June 24, 2013. The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

At the time of Petitioner's alleged disability onset date of November 23, 2006, Petitioner was thirty-seven years of age, and weighed over three hundred pounds. Petitioner completed his GED, and his prior work experience includes work as a welder's helper, a mechanic, landscape laborer, and construction laborer.

Petitioner's medical evidence is set forth by Petitioner in his brief, and indicates that he suffers from uncontrolled high blood pressure, sleep apnea, morbid obesity, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, and anxiety. Pet. Brief at 4-7 (Dkt. 15.) Of note, Petitioner ceased working on November 23, 2006, due to an elbow fracture sustained at work and for which he sought medical treatment. At that time, Petitioner was told his blood pressure was dangerously high. Petitioner was unable to secure employment after that date, because he was unable to pass a pre-employment physical due to his blood pressure. (AR 66.)

Petitioner has had no medical coverage since he ceased work, and no financial resources for medical care. Although he followed up with medical care providers for treatment of his elbow on November 2, 2006, December 8, 2006, and February 22, 2007, he did not seek medical treatment for his hypertension until April 9, 2010. On that date, Petitioner saw physician assistant John Beeh, who suggested a cardiac workup which Petitioner declined due to financial reasons.

Petitioner presented to the emergency room on April 20, 2010, complaining of worsening chest pain over the course of two months. Petitioner was admitted to the hospital and two stents were placed to resolve a seventy percent stenosis of his coronary artery. His treating cardiologist, Dr. Williams, noted on May 17, 2010, that "from my standpoint, he can return to work with no restriction. His wife requests 1 year of disability. I have explained that there is no cardiac reason for this." (AR 296.)

John Beeh and Dr. Jenkins continued to see Petitioner for check-ups following Petitioner's surgery. Despite medication to treat his high blood pressure, Petitioner continued to suffer from elevated blood pressure levels. (AR 315.) On August 6, 2010, Petitioner was referred to Dr. Luke Pluto for a sleep study, and as a result, was prescribed a C-PAP machine. On August 23, 2010, Dr. Pluto noted good sleep apnea control with the use of the C-PAP. On August 12, 2010, Petitioner was referred by Disability Services for a mental health exam, performed by Dr. Alexander. In Dr. Alexander's opinion, Petitioner had difficulty with concentration and persistence, which she indicated would be moderately impaired due to his depression and anxiety. (AR 375-76.) On August 10, 2011, after a follow up visit with Dr. Jenkins, Petitioner requested a letter regarding his ability to work. (AR 459.) According to Dr. Jenkins, Petitioner's hypertension is difficult to control, and until it is better controlled, Petitioner "should probably not be considered employable." (AR 457.)

SEQUENTIAL PROCESS

The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantially gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of November 23, 2006. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's coronary artery disease, status post stent placement; hypertension; sleep apnea; obesity; hyperlipidemia; diabetes; depressive disorder; and, generalized anxiety disorder severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically considering Listings 4.04C (heart conditions), 12.04 (affective disorders) and 12.06 (anxiety related disorders). If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and determine, at step four, whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work.

The ALJ found Petitioner was not able to perform his past relevant work as seedling planter, construction worker, maintenance worker, or scrap sorter given the heavy exertional demands of such work. If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate, at step five, that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant levels in the national economy, after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education and work ...


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