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West v. Astrue

February 19, 2009

JEFFREY E. WEST, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before this court is an appeal from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") denying the claims of Jeffrey E. West, Jr. ("plaintiff") for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83, and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the SSA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. Plaintiff asserts that the decision of the administrative law judge (the "ALJ") should be reversed because the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Defendant asserts that the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court will deny plaintiff's motion and grant defendant's motion because the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence.

Procedural History

On December 3, 2003, plaintiff filed an application for DIB and on October 17, 2003, for SSI, alleging that his Crohn's disease and several mental impairments rendered him unable to work. (R. at 83-85, 304-07.) Plaintiff's claims were denied on May 14, 2004. (R. at 64-68.) Plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before the ALJ, which was held on February 23, 2006. (R. at 40-61.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. (R. at 43-54.) A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. (R. at 55-60.) On March 16, 2007, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (R. at 11-32) and plaintiff timely filed a request for review with the Appeals Council. (R. at 10.) After a denial of the request on August 10, 2007, and having exhausted all administrative remedies, plaintiff filed this appeal. (R. at 6-9.)

Plaintiff's Background and Medical History

Plaintiff is a twenty-eight-year-old man, who received a G.E.D. and completed one year of college. (R. at 44.) In the past, he worked as a cashier, fast food cook, server, and as a cleaner. (R. at 45-46, 99.) Plaintiff's medical history began when he was seventeen and was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease.*fn1 (R. at 147.)

Medical History

On November 3, 1998, plaintiff was hospitalized for a flare up of his Crohn's disease. After a brief treatment, the exacerbated symptoms receded, plaintiff's abdomen returned to normal, and he was prescribed Pentasa*fn2 and Prednisone to control any future flaring of his Crohn's disease. (R. at 146.) Plaintiff's medical records, however, indicate that plaintiff was "somewhat noncompliant" with taking his prescribed medication and that he sometimes did not take any medication for his Crohn's disease. (R. at 153, 160, 191, 198, 248, 287.) On multiple occasions, he visited his treating physician or was hospitalized with complaints of exacerbation of his Crohn's disease. (R. at 169, 182, 185.) Eventually, he 'underwent a resection of the terminal ileum and right colon," which "[h]e tolerated well." (R. 168.) In February 2004, he underwent a colonoscopy that showed "[s]ome mild inflammatory changes" and "some scattered small aphthous ulcers," but "[o]therwise, no gross evidence of recurrent Crohn's disease." (R. at 206.) The medical records reflect that plaintiff did not follow his doctors' advice to take the Pentasa. (R. at 294-95.)

The record reflects that Dr. Chatta treated plaintiff from December 2002 until January 25, 2006. (R. at 239-51, 287-302.) From March 2004 to March 2005, plaintiff frequently visited Dr. Chatta with different complaints of pain throughout the entire body. X-rays of the alleged pain centers were taken, but they all came back normal. (R. at 298-302.) During these visits, Dr. Chatta found no evidence of abdominal pain. (R. at 240, 291, 292, 294, 296.) In October 2004, Dr. Chatta noted that plaintiff was being seen for panic attacks and anxiety and did not have other complaints. (R. at 296.) Dr. Chatta reported at that time that plaintiff should take medication for his Crohn's disease for "some help with this problem." (R. at 295.)

In May 2004, a disability determination services' medical consultant performed a physical residual functional capacity assessment ("PRFCA") of plaintiff. After reviewing plaintiff's medical history, the consultant concluded that plaintiff was capable of standing and walking for six hours in an eight-hour work day, could lift about twenty pounds, and had no established postural, manipulative, or visual limitations. (R. at 253-54.) The consultant based his findings on prior medical records that showed successful treatment of plaintiff's mental and physical conditions, and on plaintiff's description of his daily activities, which included helping with household tasks and taking care of his personal needs. (R. at 220, 258.)

On July 12, 2005, plaintiff visited Dr. Demby, this time with complaints of abdominal pain and increased pulse; however, when the doctor refused to prescribe Klonopin*fn3 based on plaintiff's drug addiction history, plaintiff left the office without taking a prescription for medication for abdominal pain. (R. at 289.) The physical evaluation did not reveal any tenderness or guarding associated with the abdominal area. (Id.)

On January 25, 2006, plaintiff went to Dr. Chatta for a check up. (R. at 287.) Plaintiff reported to Dr. Chatta that, despite his history of depression and anxiety, he had not taken medication for those conditions "for a while." (Id.) Dr. Chatta reported that plaintiff was not taking his Crohn's disease medication and that, despite complaints of pain in the abdomen and sometimes having diarrhea, the exam showed no tenderness in this area. (Id.) The same day, Dr. Chatta performed a physical capacity evaluation test ("PCET") and determined that plaintiff was capable of sitting or standing for fifteen minutes per hour, and a total of four hours per eight-hour work day; that plaintiff needed to lay down for a total of four hours per eight-hour work day; and that plaintiff could never kneel or crawl. (R. at 271, 272.) Dr. Chatta identified the medical findings which supported the limitations as being plaintiff's 2003 Crohn's disease surgery and a 2004 colonoscopy showing small areas of inflammation. (R. at 273.)

History of Drug Abuse and Drug-Related Arrests

Although having participated in a drug rehabilitation program since 2001 and having taken Methadone*fn4 four times a week to control his drug addiction and heroine abuse, plaintiff continued to test positive for opiates. (R. at 208, 297.) On March 1, 2004, after his colonoscopy, plaintiff was hospitalized for an overdose and a drug test came back positive for cocaine and benzodiazepines. (R. at 209-10.) On January 30, 2006, five days after the PCET was performed, a drug test that Dr. Chatta requested on January 25, 2006, came back positive for benzodiazepines.*fn5 (R. at 287, 297.) Plaintiff's history of drug abuse is coupled with multiple arrests for drug-related offenses, which resulted in incarcerations or house arrests for the majority of 2002, 2003, and 2004. (R. at 197-98, 204, 220, ...


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