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Betts v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

December 11, 2014

AARON BETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

TERRY I. ADELMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This cause is on appeal from an adverse ruling of the Social Security Administration. The suit involves applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act. Claimant has filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint; the Commissioner has filed a Brief in Support of her Answer. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

I. Procedural History

On January 27, 2011, Claimant Aaron Betts filed Applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et. seq. (Tr. 107-13)[1] and for Supplemental Security Income payments pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et. seq. (Tr. 114-19). Claimant states that his disability began on February 15, 2009, as a result of aortic heart dissection. (Tr. 55). On initial consideration, the Social Security Administration denied Claimant's claims for benefits. (Tr. 56-60). Claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 63-67). On June 28, 2012, a hearing was held before the ALJ who issued an unfavorable decision on November 14, 2012. (Tr. 9-19, 23-46). The Appeals Council on December 5, 2013 found no basis for changing the ALJ’s decision and denied Claimant’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision after considering the brief of representative. (Tr. 1-5, 195-96). The ALJ's determination thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. Evidence Before the ALJ

A. Hearing on June 28, 2012

At the hearing on June 28, 2012, Claimant testified in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel. (Tr. 23-46). At the time of the hearing, Claimant was thirty-four years of age, and his date of birth is September 11, 1977. (Tr. 26). Claimant testified that he completed high school. Claimant stands at six feet and weighs 200 pounds. (Tr. 26). He is right-handed. (Tr. 27). He lives with his mother who works outside the home. (Tr. 39).

Claimant testified that he last worked in October 2009 at U.S. Lockbox after almost two years, and his duties included shipping and receiving and data entry. (Tr. 27). Before that job, he worked at Neece and Art Craft in customer service. (Tr. 27). For twelve years, Claimant worked at FedEx as a quality assurance manager, and his duties included customer service, loading trucks, and making deliveries. (Tr. 28). FedEx terminated him for stealing time off the clock and showing favoritism towards employees. (Tr. 28).

Claimant has congestive heart failure and dissection of the aorta. (Tr. 29). He testified that his doctors told him he was working too much lifting weights seven days a week and not getting any rest causing his aorta to dissect. (Tr. 29-30). He sought medical treatment after hurting his ankle and having a bad cough for two to three weeks. (Tr. 30). The doctor at Grace Hill gave him some antibiotics as treatment but the medication did not work, and his cough worsened. (Tr. 30). He sought treatment at Barnes Jewish Hospital, and the doctor performed the aortic dissection and repaired his aneurysm in his head. (Tr. 30-31). Claimant testified that he has some congenital problem with his blood vessels. (Tr. 31). He has not been hospitalized since December 2010. (Tr. 32). Dr. Susan Joseph and Dr. Braverman, cardiologists, treat Claimant. (Tr. 32). He testified that he is treated with medications. (Tr. 33). Claimant has not had any other treatment for the aneurysm other than the treatment he received while hospitalized at Barnes. (Tr. 34).

Claimant testified that his condition prevents him from standing on his feet and sit down for a long period of time. (Tr. 35). He cannot walk long distances without taking a break, and he uses a cane to assist with walking and maintaining his balance. (Tr. 36, 42). After walking for fifteen minutes, he is exhausted, and he starts gasping for breath. (Tr. 36). The cane helps his balance because he experiences dizzy spells. Because of his dizziness spells, Claimant cannot stand for a long period of time. (Tr. 37). He is uncomfortable sitting because his body becomes numb. Lying down puts him in a comfortable position. (Tr. 37).

Claimant testified that he has problems with his back and knees, and he needs to elevate his legs. (Tr. 38). He follows the doctors’ orders by keeping his feet elevated and lying down on a bed. Claimant testified that he spends more than half of the day lying down only getting up to use the restroom. (Tr. 38). He has been told not to lift anything heavy. (Tr. 39). His surgeon told him if he lifts any heavy item, the repair to his aorta could rupture. (Tr. 39). Five to six times a day he experiences episodes of chest pressure lasting from one to two hours. (Tr. 42). Lying down makes him feel better. (Tr. 43).

Since the surgery, Claimant feels his symptoms are becoming worse. (Tr. 43). His surgery has not helped with his breathing and walking. (Tr. 43). He takes naps at least twice a day for three to four hours. (Tr. 44). The last time he had the treadmill test was when he had the surgery. (Tr. 44). Claimant testified to prevent another aneurysm or overload his heart, he cannot be in extremely hot or cold weather; he cannot lift anything heavy; and he has to avoid anything stressful. (Tr. 45).

2. Forms Completed by Claimant

In the Disability Report - Adult, Claimant reported he stopped working on February 15, 2009 “[b]ecause of my condition(s) and other reasons” noting that the department in which he worked closed down.” (Tr. 173-79).

In the Function Report - Adult completed on March 25, 2011, Claimant reported his daily activities include reading books, watching television, making his bed, doing the laundry, polishing and wiping down things as needed. (Tr. 150, 152). He listed playing pool, throwing darts, bowling, and playing any video games as his hobbies. (Tr. 154). Claimant spends time with others playing cards. (Tr. 154). He goes to the doctor’s office three to four times a month. (Tr. 154). The use of a cane for long periods of standing and walking was prescribed when he was discharged from the hospital. (Tr. 156).

III. Medical Records and Other Records

To obtain disability insurance benefits, Claimant must establish that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act not later than the date his insured status expired -December 31, 2014. Pyland v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 873, 876 (8th Cir. 1998) (“In order to receive disability insurance benefits, an applicant must establish that she was disabled before the expiration of her insured status.”); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I) and 423(c); 20 C.F.R. § 404.131.

On December 14, 2010, Claimant presented in the emergency room seeking treatment for cough of two months after being diagnosed with pneumonia at Urgent Care one week earlier. (Tr. 244, 256). He was given a Z-Pak as treatment, and he experienced some relief but his symptoms returned after he finished the antibiotic. (Tr. 256). He reported having shortness of breath and chest pain, and his heart beating faster. (Tr. 245, 257). Examination showed his heart rate greater than 110. (Tr. 245). He reported productive cough, body aches and tachypnea with exertion since May. (Tr. 246). Claimant reported being an unemployed warehouse office staff. (Tr. 257). In the progress note, a doctor noted how cardiac surgery was aware of large aortic dissection. (Tr. 261). Dr. Heiken noted in the Impression, patchy consolidation in the right lower lung, most consistent with pneumonia and mild to moderate cardiomegaly. (Tr. 274). Dr. Douglas Char made the diagnosis of acute dissection - thoracic. (Tr. 293). It is noted how no primary care physician would be contacted because he had no primary care doctor of record. (Tr. 294).

On December 15, 2010, Dr. Marc Moon performed aortic root replacement surgery and replaced the emergent ascending aortic with a Hemashield graft and placed a intra-aortic balloon pump. (Tr. 238). Claimant presented in the emergency room the night before, and he was taken to the operating room for emergent repair, and Dr. Moon then found he had very severe aortic regurgitation, dilated left ventricle, and elevated BNP. Dr. Moon did an aorta to innominate bypass due to near-occlusion of his innominate artery and noted the procedure gave excellent flow into his right carotid and subclavian. (Tr. 238). Dr. Moon noted Claimant to have a chronic dissection of unknown duration. (Tr. 239).

The December 15, 2010 Chest Computed Tomography showed a large ascending aortic aneurysm and a Type A aortic dissection originating at the aortic root and extends through the ascending aorta and aortic arch up to the level of the left subclavian artery. (Tr. 22-30).

The Transthoracic Echocardiography with Color Doppler revealed status post aortic root repair after aortic dissection, paradoxical septal motion, and overall LV ...


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