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Dollens v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

March 30, 2015

TROY L. DOLLENS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JOHN A. ROSS, District Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Troy Dollens' ("Dollens") applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq.

I. Background

On April 13, 2011, Dollens protectively filed applications for disability insurance under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. (Tr. 120-128), and for SSI benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§1381, et seq. (Tr. 129-134) In both applications, Dollens alleged disability beginning January 4, 2008.[1] The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Dollens' claims on July 8, 2011. (Tr. 70-74) He filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on July 13, 2011. (Tr. 75-76) Following a hearing held on August 6, 2012 and continued to August 8, 2012 (Tr. 30-66), the ALJ issued a written decision on August 24, 2012, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 7-29) Dollens requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 6) On September 10, 2013, the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. 1-6) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

Dollens filed this appeal on November 6, 2013. (Doc. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. No. 11) Dollens filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint. (Doc. No. 25) The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. (Doc. No. 32) Dollens did not file a Reply Brief.

II. Decision of the ALJ

The ALJ determined that Dollens meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012, [2] and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 9, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 2) The ALJ found Dollens had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, status post right ankle gunshot, status post left knee arthroscopy, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, and anxiety disorder, but that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 12-13)

After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Dollens had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, except for the following nonexertional limitations: can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolding; can only frequently balance; can only occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel or crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases and poor ventilation; limited to being able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; can generally related appropriately to co-workers and supervisors in small numbers and for short periods of time; can be expected to perform best in a work setting where tasks can be completed relatively independently and where social interaction is not a primary job requirement; can make simple work-related decisions; and has the ability to adapt to routine change in the workplace for most situations. (Tr. 15)

The ALJ found Dollens unable to perform any past relevant work; however, based on his age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Dollens can perform, including small products assembler, electrical assembler, and housekeeper. (Tr. 22-23) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Dollens had not been under a disability from the alleged onset date of June 9, 2010 through the date of his decision, August 24, 2012. (Tr. 24)

III. Administrative Record

The following is a summary of the relevant evidence before the ALJ.

A. Hearing Testimony

The ALJ held a hearing in this matter on August 6, 2012, which was continued due to an unexpected power outage to August 8, 2012. ALJ heard testimony from Dollens and Bonnie Brasher Ward, a vocational expert.

1. Dollens' testimony

Dollens was 52 years old at the time of the hearing and living with his 16-year old son. (Tr. 34) He completed the ninth grade and has no further training or education. (Tr. 35) Dollens has a driver's license. (Tr. 35, 58) Dollens testified he hasn't worked since February of 2007, when he was laid off from a full-time job assembling doors. (Tr. 37-38) He was incarcerated from 2008 to 2011. (Tr. 38) While in prison Dollens was treated for depression, anxiety and schizophrenia as well as emphysema and COPD. (Tr. 39)

It was Dollens' testimony that his ability to work was affected after falling out of a tree while working in 1996. (Id.) He hurt his back and hip; this condition has worsened over the years. (Tr. 43) He has pain every day and rates it between a 3 and 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 with medication. (Tr. 40) He has used a cane for the last year and half when his back and hip are out of place. (Tr. 36) He is treated for his back condition by Steven Taylor, M.D. (Tr. 41) Activity such as housework makes his condition worse. (Id.) Medication helps with no side effects. (Tr. 42) He uses heat and ice twice daily and that also helps. (Tr. 42-43)

Dollens sustained a gunshot to his right ankle in the late 1970's, causing him to walk with a limp. He rates his pain at a 2 or 3 and testified that it has worsened over time. He has not sought any treatment for his ankle pain. (Tr. 40, 43-44)

In 2000 Dollens was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema. He uses three inhalers and an oral medication, which helps with the condition. His breathing is aggravated by heat and allergies. (Tr. 60) According to Dollens this condition has remained the same. (Tr. 44-45)

It was also Dollens' testimony that his mental problems affect his ability to work. He was diagnosed in prison with anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. (Tr. 45) He described hearing voices, even while taking his medication. He cannot be around people or drive in large areas like Columbia. (Tr. 46) His medication helps when taken as directed. (Tr. 47) Dollens sees a therapist monthly and has never been hospitalized. (Id.)

Dollens has had two heart attacks. (Tr. 47-48) He often experiences chest pains two to three times a day, but can go for two to three days at a time with no symptoms. When he experiences chest pains he sits in a chair and tries to relax. (Tr. 59) He has to take two or three nitroglycerin pills before the pain ...

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