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Koch v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2014

ROBERT W. KOCH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S APPEAL

GERALD B. COHN, Magistrate Judge.

I. Procedural History

On June 6, 2008, Robert W. Koch ("Plaintiff") protectively filed an application for Title II Social Security Disability benefits ("DIB"), with an onset date of May 13, 2008, and a date last insured of September 30, 2008, (collectively, the "relevant period") (Tr. 138-47).

This application was denied, and on June 16, 2010 (Tr. 87-96) and January 14, 2011 (Tr. 62-86), a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), where Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. On March 15, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to DIB because Plaintiff could perform reduced range of sedentary work (Tr. 16, Finding No. 5). On August 1, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby affirming the decision of the ALJ as the "final decision" of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).

On September 24, 2012, Plaintiff filed the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to appeal the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying social security benefits. Doc. 1.

On November 26, 2012, Commissioner filed an answer and administrative transcript of proceedings. Docs. 7, 8. In January and February 2013, the parties filed briefs in support. Docs. 9, 10, 11. On April 29, 2014, the Court referred this case to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. On May 16, 2014, the parties consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. Doc. 13.

II. Standard of Review

When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, we must determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen , 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec. , 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pierce v. Underwood , 487 U.S. 552, 564 (1988); Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir. 1999); Johnson , 529 F.3d at 200.

This is a deferential standard of review. See Jones v. Barnhart , 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is satisfied without a large quantity of evidence; it requires only "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence. Plummer v. Apfel , 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). It may be less than a preponderance. Jones , 364 F.3d at 503. Thus, if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support the conclusion reached by the Acting Commissioner, then the Acting Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence and stands. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler , 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986).

To receive disability or supplemental security benefits, Plaintiff must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

Moreover, the Act requires further that a claimant for disability benefits must show that he has a physical or mental impairment of such a severity that: "he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

III. Relevant Facts in the Record

A. Background

Plaintiff was born on September 23, 1965. On his alleged onset date of May 13, 2008, he was 43 years old. (Tr. 161). He has a high school diploma. (Tr. 171). At the time of his alleged onset he was working as a drywall hanger and finisher, a heavy-duty, skilled position. (Tr. 84, 166).

As for daily activities, Plaintiff testified he does laundry, cooking, feeds the dog, mows the lawn with a riding lawnmower, and drives. (Tr. 75-76). Plaintiff states he gets something out for supper because his wife works. (Tr. 78). He testified that during the day he feeds the chickens, watches TV, and goes over to visit his parents. (Tr. 79). When the ALJ questioned whether Plaintiff could still lift and carry things, Plaintiff testified he is no longer able to split firewood. (Tr. 76).

The ALJ questioned whether Plaintiff could have a job where he sat all day long. (Tr. 81). Plaintiff stated he laid around all day because he didn't have a choice in bed, but that he never sat all day and he's "not a sitter." (Tr. 81). The ALJ asked whether Plaintiff could work five days a week if he could sit or stand as needed. (Tr. 81). Plaintiff stated he supposed he could do that. (Tr. 81). The ALJ asked if he could do it on a consistent basis, and Plaintiff stated the bleeding problems would interfere. (Tr. 81-82).

B. Relevant Medical Evidence

1. Angiokeratoma

Eight years prior to the relevant period, on December 16, 1999, Plaintiff presented to Christen Mowad, M.D., with scrotal lesions (Tr. 821). He had them for over 15 years and only used over-the-counter medication to treat them (Tr. 821). He noted that they occasionally itched, ached, bled, and scabbed over (Tr. 821). Dr. Mowad assessed the lesions as angiokeratomas and "reassured [Plaintiff] of the[ir] benign nature" (Tr. 821). Plaintiff "was relieved to know they were not worrisome lesions and prefer[red] to just follow them" (Tr. 821).

Several weeks later, on January 8, 2000, Plaintiff similarly described the lesions to Michael J. Piccuta, M.D. (Tr. 464). He also expressed his belief that new lesions continued to develop (Tr. 464). Akin to Dr. Mowad, Dr. Piccuta also diagnosed Plaintiff with angiokeratoma (Tr. 464). He recommended that Plaintiff apply cream as needed and discharged Plaintiff from his care (Tr. 464). Later, during the relevant period, doctors wrote on July 2, 2008, that Plaintiff had a mass, swelling, and herpes-like lesions on his scrotum (Tr. 397). Several days later, on July 6, 2008, doctors noted the existence of mollusca on Plaintiff's scrotum (Tr. 297). Plaintiff also complained of genitourinary pain, bleeding, and other symptoms during the relevant period, but these related to the temporary implantation of a catheter (Tr. 259-62, 296-302, 348, 367, 369, 371, 373, 396-98, 558, 839).

Two months after the conclusion of the relevant period, on December 10, 2008, Plaintiff presented to Stephanie Y. Daniel, M.D., for evaluation of his scrotal lesions (Tr. 545). He noted that they had persisted since childhood and multiplied as he aged (Tr. 545). He described them as pruritic, painful, and prone to spontaneous bleeding (especially since he began blood-thinning medication) (Tr. 545). They did not weep fluid, however (Tr. 545). On examination, Plaintiff appeared to be healthy, pleasant, and in no distress (Tr. 546).

Finally, on December 6, 2010, Plaintiff visited Sabrina K. Dowd, M.D., for a second evaluation of his scrotal lesions (Tr. 931). He offered similar complaints (Tr. 931). Dr. Dowd "reviewed in detail with [Plaintiff] laser treatment for this" (Tr. 931). Plaintiff, however, "just wanted to know what this was and d[id] not desire any treatment" (Tr. 931). Dr. Dowd informed "him that this is a benign condition" (Tr. 931).

2. COPD

On April 14, 2009, more than six months after the end of the relevant period, James P. Herberg, M.D., of Clinton Medical Associates, overtly noted Plaintiff's COPD for the first time (Tr. 669). Prior to that, doctors collectively found during the relevant period that Plaintiff had clear lungs, no respiratory difficulty, and/or appropriate/non-labored breath sounds (Tr. 277, 282, 285, 293, 297, 301, 349, 398). Plaintiff also routinely exhibited no crackles, rales, wheezing, or rhonchi in his lungs (Tr. 220, 252, 277, 282, 285, 341, 558).

Plaintiff noted that in May 2008, he experienced shortness of breath (among other things) with physical activity (Tr. 252). But for the remainder of the relevant period he denied experiencing this symptom (Tr. 219, 276, 285, 296). Moreover, a May 2008 chest x-ray showed no active pulmonary disease (Tr. 283, 285, 643). A June 5, 2008 chest x-ray revealed a somewhat limited inspiratory effort, but no suggestion of active pleural or parenchymal process (Tr. 225). On July 15, 2008, doctors noted that Plaintiff's pulmonary system was stable (Tr. 301). An August 19, 2008 CT scan of Plaintiff's abdomen and pelvis showed no focal lesions, no infiltrates, and no pleural effusions in his lung bases (Tr. 379).

3. Medical Source Opinions

In June 2008, Plaintiff's doctor opined to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare that Plaintiff's impairments temporarily incapacitated him (Tr. 214). Later, on March 6, 2009, Mark Bohn, M.D., a state agency physician, determined that at Plaintiff's date last insured, he retained the residual functional capacity to perform a modified range of light work (Tr. 456-62).

One year later, on March 11, 2010, Dr. Herberg opined that Plaintiff could not work because of, among other things, his COPD (Tr. 915). Nonetheless, Dr. Herberg did not mention Plaintiff's angiokeratoma (Tr. 915). Dr. Herberg repeated his opinion on October 21, 2010 (Tr. ...


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