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Rivera v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 15, 2017

ANGEL RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Angel Rivera brings this 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) action to challenge the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Rivera's application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. Rivera moves to reverse the Commissioner's decision, arguing as a general matter the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to provide substantial evidence of his decision and credibility determinations. The Commissioner moves to affirm, contending the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's claim at Steps Two, Three Step Four, and Five. For the following reasons, the Court reverses and remands for proceedings consistent with the policy considerations of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) and this decision.

         Background

         I. Factual Background

         The Court accepts the facts from the parties' joint stipulation of undisputed facts and hereby incorporates them into this opinion. Dkt. 20 (Joint Stipulation of Facts). Briefly, Rivera was born on January 27, 1960. Tr. 257. He completed high school and worked as a loading dock helper, dishwasher, and prep cook. Dkt. 20, at 16. Rivera's last earnings date back to 2005, as Rivera was hit in the head by a forklift and ceased working after the accident. Id. at 16-17.

         Rivera experiences chronic pain in his hips, back, and shoulder. In 2003, Rivera suffered a hip injury when a motor vehicle fell on his hip, which resulted in multiple visits to the emergency room. He went to the emergency room after this incident. Id. at 2. He was diagnosed with a right hip contusion, id., and went back to the emergency room in August 2009 complaining of the same pain for the same reason. Id. at 2-3.[1] Rivera last reported left hip pain in December 2010. Id. at 6. Since that date he has neither complained of nor received treatment for his hip condition.

         From February 2009 through July 2013 Rivera was treated for chronic back pain. In October 2009 an MRI revealed disc desiccation, disc bulging, and degenerative joint disease. Id. at 4. By March 2012 an evaluation by Dr. Thomas J. Stevens indicated no clinical evidence of acute issues with the back and Dr. Stevens classified his pain instead as “garden-variety sciatica.” Id. at 10. Since then he has neither complained of nor received treatment for his degenerative joint disease.

         Rivera also received treatment for right shoulder pain in 2010 due to a fall in the shower that occurred November 2009. Id. At 4. Aside from this incident, he has neither complained of nor received treatment of his degenerative joint disease.

         Finally, Rivera has also been treated for insomnia, hypertension and diabetes mellitus; id. at 2, 7; 3, 5, 15; and 7, 15, respectively; however, the record does not contain any information concerning the debilitating effects of these conditions.

         Rivera has a history of mental health and substance abuse issues. See Id. at 2-3. In February 2012, Rivera received a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Jay M. Cudrin. Id. at 8. Dr. Cudrin evaluated Rivera and determined Rivera to have a Full Scale IQ of 66, Verbal IQ of 67, and Performance IQ of 70. Id. He scored Rivera's word recognition at a standard of 62 (third grade level). Id. In 2014, Rivera reported symptoms of depression. Id. at 15-16. Rivera reported symptoms of episodic depression following the murders of his brother and nephew. Id. at 9. Finally, Rivera is addicted to alcohol and methamphetamine. See Id. at 2-3.

         Rivera has been evaluated on multiple occasions by each of the following doctors: Dr. B. Gould (Primary Care), Dr. Stanley Glassman (Primary Care), Dr. Gary Italia (Chiropractor), and Dr. Stevens (Orthopedics). Dr. Cudrin (Psychologist) met with Rivera on one occasion and performed a psychological testing evaluation. Id. at 8-9. Several State agency consultants, Dr. Adrian Brown (Psychology), Dr. Lois Wurzel (Medical), Dr. Kenneth Bangs (Psychology), Dr. Abraham Bernstein (Medical), also evaluated his case. These evaluations in conjunction with objective medical evidence form the primary basis for the ALJ's decision.

         II. Brief Procedural Overview

         The following facts are also taken from the parties' joint stipulation of undisputed facts. Dkt. 20. Rivera filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) payments on July 17, 2012, alleging an onset date of July 30, 2008. See Id. at 1; Tr. 257 (onset date of July 30, 2008). Rivera's application and reconsideration were both denied. Dkt. 20 at 1. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ and subsequently amended the onset date to July 17, 2012. Id. The hearing before the ALJ took place on July 23, 2014, and on August 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Rivera was not disabled. Id. Rivera sought review by the Appeals Council, but review was denied. Id. at 1-2. This appeal followed.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ issued the following findings. Rivera did not engage in substantial gainful activity since January 17, 2012. Tr. 14. Rivera suffered from the following severe impairments: lumbar spondylosis, stenosis, and borderline intellectual functioning. Id. Rivera suffered from the following nonsevere impairments: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus, diabetic ketoacidosis, memory loss from head injury, post-concussion syndrome. Id. at 15-16. Rivera's hypertension and hyperlipidemia appear to be under good control with medication. Id. at 15. Although Rivera has been admitted to the emergency room for uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and diabetic ketoacidosis, the hospital records indicated Rivera admitted to decreased use of his diabetic medications and a later follow-up appointment with his primary care physician determined his diabetes to be under control with prescribed insulin. Id. Medical evidence of his alleged memory loss from head injury shows essentially normal findings and lacking traumatic brain injury or memory loss as alleged. Id. at 16.

         In addition, Rivera's severe impairments, either individually or collectively, do not meet or equal the severity of one listed impairment under 20 C.F.R. Part 404. Specifically, there is no evidence that Rivera's hip impairments result in the inability to effectively ambulate, a major dysfunction of a joint, or motor loss under Sections 1.00B2b, 1.02, and 1.04. Id. Rivera's mental impairments do not meet or medically equal the criteria under Listings 12.02B and 12.05D. Id.

         In light of Rivera's symptoms, the ALJ found that Rivera has the residual functioning capacity to perform medium work and carry out and remember simple instructions. Id. at 18. While noting that the medically determinable impairments to which Rivera testified could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, the ALJ found that his professed “persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible. . . .” Id. at 20. ...


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