United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
TERRY HAZELWOOD, Plaintiff.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DAVID J. NOVAK, Magistrate Judge.
Terry Hazelwood ("Plaintiff") is 48 years old and previously worked as a builder and salesman in the construction field. On July 3, 2013, he filed this action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") for impairments resulting from a vehicular crash caused by Plaintiff's intoxication. The Commissioner's decision was based on a finding by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") that Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, expected to last for twelve or more months, as defined by the Social Security Act ("Act") and applicable regulations. This matter is now before the Court by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636(c)(1) on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14), Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 15) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17).
Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's denial of benefits, arguing that the All erred in finding that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe impairments expected to last more than twelve months. (Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Mem.") (ECF No. 16) at 13.) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. (Pl.'s Mem. at 15.) Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ erred by failing to consider Plaintiff's obesity as a severe impairment. (Pl.'s Mem. at 17.) Defendant responds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's severity determination and that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe for purposes of the Act. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. and Br. in Supp. Thereof ("Def.'s Mem.") (ECF No. 17) at 8.) Defendant also asserts that the ALJ properly discounted the opinion of Plaintiff's physician. (Def.'s Mem. at 9.) Defendant further argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's obesity was not a severe impairment. (Def.'s Mem. at 11)
For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14), DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 15), GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.
Because Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe impairments expected to last more than twelve months, in discounting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician and in finding that Plaintiff's obesity was not a severe impairment, Plaintiff's educational and work history, medical history, hearing testimony, third party function report and non-treating state agency physicians' opinions are summarized below.
A. Plaintiff's Education and Work history
Plaintiff was 45 years old at the time of his alleged onset date of October 25, 2010. (R. at 131.) Plaintiff completed high school and attended welding and electric classes at community college. (R. at 23.) Plaintiff worked as a salesman and a builder - building and selling gazebos, sheds and furniture. (R. at 26, 136-37.)
B. Plaintiff's Medical History
On October 25, 2010, Plaintiff drove his truck while intoxicated and struck a tree, a telephone pole and another vehicle. (R. at 290.) Plaintiff was injured and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital as a result of the crash. (R. at 290-91.) Plaintiff remained at the hospital for seventeen days and was treated for fractured bones, a cardiac contusion, multiple traumatic injuries and delirium tremens caused by alcohol withdrawal. (R. at 343, 367, 373-74.) While at the hospital, Daniel Carey, M.D. treated Plaintiff (R. at 346.) On November 9, 2010, Dr. Carey reported that Plaintiff "continue[d] to do remarkably well" and that Plaintiff was "able to climb two flights of stairs and walk in the hall with no assistance." (R. at 346.) On November 10, 2010, Plaintiff was discharged from the hospital. (R. at 378.)
On December 15, 2010, Plaintiff attended a follow-up appointment at Dr. Carey's office, the Cardiovascular Group. (R. at 342.) Plaintiff's attendants reported that Plaintiff had been doing well since he was discharged from the hospital. (R. at 343.) Plaintiff's cardiac contusion had improved and his ventricular tachycardia was stable with no sign of recurrence. (R. at 342.) A physical examination revealed that Plaintiff was generally well-developed, well-nourished and in no acute distress. (R. at 344.) Plaintiff's heart had a regular rate and rhythm with no rubs, murmurs or gallops appreciated. (R. at 344.) Plaintiff had no focal deficits and had no clubbing, cyanosis, edema or deformity in his extremities. (R. at 345.) On December 20, 2010, an echocardiogram indicated normal systolic function. (R. at 340-41.)
On January 5, 2011, Clarence E. Hall, M.D. of Crew Medical center prescribed Plaintiff Percocet and Lorazepam. (R. at 377.) On February 15, 2011, Plaintiff attended a follow-up appointment with Dr. Hall. (R. at 377-78.) Dr. Hall completed an Attending Physician's Statement in which he opined that Plaintiff was disabled in part due to a cardiac contusion, ventricular tachycardia, diabetes, multiple fractures and a head injury. (R. at 378.) Dr. Hall also recorded that he had seen Plaintiff twice since Plaintiff was discharged from the hospital. (R. at 378.) Dr. Hall further opined that Plaintiff had been or would be continuously disabled from October 25, 2010, through the present (February 15, 2011). (R. at 378.) On March 22, 2011, Dr. Hall refilled Plaintiff's prescription for Percocet. (R. at 376.)
On June 29, 2011, Dr. Carey indicated that there had been no changes in Plaintiff's extremities or neurological state. (R. at 391-92.) Dr. Carey further reported that, by December 2010, Plaintiff's heart had recovered nicely from the cardiac contusion suffered in the car accident. (R. at 389.) Dr. Carey opined that Plaintiff's contusion did not result in any lasting consequence. (R. at 389.) Plaintiff was well-developed, well-nourished and in no acute distress. (R. at 391.) Dr. Carey recommended that Plaintiff begin a regular exercise routine to help with his obesity. (R. at 389.)
The record does not indicate that Plaintiff had further follow-up appointments with Dr. Hall after March 22, 2011. However, on January 3, 2012, Dr. Hall completed a Work-Related Limitations Form for Plaintiff. (R. at 384-87.) Dr. Hall indicated that Plaintiff's limitations stemmed from his accident on October 25, 2010, and Dr. Hall referenced his treatment notes from 2010 to support his conclusions regarding Plaintiff's limitations. (R. at 384-87.) Dr. Hall opined that Plaintiff's ability to lift and carry was impaired, and that Plaintiff was unable to completely bend over due to the injury that he sustained as a result of the car accident. (R. at 384.) Dr. Hall stated that Plaintiff was unable to stand, walk or sit uninterrupted for more than thirty minutes. (R. at 384-85.) Dr. Hall further indicated that Plaintiff could never climb, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl or push, and could occasionally balance. (R. at 385.) Plaintiff's ability to finger and feel was limited, and Plaintiff experienced shortness of breath. (R. at 385, 387.) Dr. Hall further opined that Plaintiff was totally disabled from any work activity. (R. at 386.) On January 3, 2012, Dr. Hall also prescribed for Plaintiff a cane, listing pelvic fractures, cardiac contusion and degenerative disc disease as the diagnoses. (R. at 388.)
C. Plaintiff's Third Party Function Report
On April 22, 2011, Tabitha C. Lee, Plaintiff's girlfriend, completed a third-party function report for Plaintiff, describing his activities of daily living and condition. (R. at 156-66.) Plaintiff lived with Ms. Lee and her daughter. (R. at 156.) Ms. Lee indicated that Plaintiff spent most of his days watching television and taking walks around the house or, weather permitting, the neighborhood. (R. at 157.) Plaintiff owned approximately fifty cows, two dogs and one cat. (R. at 157.) Ms. Lee indicated that Plaintiff cared for the animals with the help of his parents, Ms. Lee and Ms. Lee's daughter. (R. at 157.) Plaintiff occasionally shopped in stores, washed the dishes and prepared sandwiches. (R. at 157, 159, 161.) Plaintiff fished and visited his family and friends two to three times per month. (R. at 161.) Plaintiff also visited his farm, which was located a quarter of a mile away from his home. (R. at 162.)
D. Plaintiff's Testimony
On February 9, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (R. at 18-37.) Plaintiff testified that he drove approximately three days per week for about thirty minutes at a time. (R. at 24.) Plaintiff also indicated that he could maybe lift two gallons of milk or about sixteen pounds at a time. (R. at 35.) Furthermore, on an average day, Plaintiff would walk around the circumference of his driveway for approximately five to ten minutes at a time. (R. at 35.)
E. Non-Treating State Agency Physicians' Opinions
On February 9, 2011, David C. Williams, M.D., a non-treating state agency physician, opined that Plaintiff's condition was severe at that time, but was expected to improve. (R. at 53.) Specifically, Dr. Williams indicated that Plaintiff's condition would not remain severe enough for twelve months such that Plaintiff would be unable to work. (R. at 53.) On May 13, 2011, Richard Surrosco, M.D. made the same findings as Dr. Williams, noting that Plaintiff's condition would not remain severely disabling for twelve months. (R. at 57, ...