United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. KEITH BALL, Magistrate Judge.
Kenneth Patrick brought this action to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Presently before the Court is the Commissioner's motion to affirm . Having considered the memoranda of the parties and the administrative record, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's motion be granted and the decision affirmed.
I. Procedural History
Patrick was born on May 15, 1958, and was 55 years of age at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. He has a limited education and past relevant work experience as a poultry catcher. Patrick filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on August 20, 2012, alleging disability beginning October 1, 2011, due to gout, fluid on the knees, neck problems, arm problems and hypertension. His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and he requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ issued a decision finding that Patrick is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. Patrick then brought this appeal pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
II. Evidence Before the ALJ
The medical record consists primarily of treatment notes from the Veteran's Administration (VA) Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. In March of 2012, Patrick presented at the VA emergency room with pain and swelling in the left knee. R. 453. He was diagnosed with gouty arthritis and treated with therapeutic arthrocentesis. R. 454. In June of 2012, he spent thirty days in the VA's in-patient treatment program for alcohol dependence. R. 299-300. During this time he underwent an x-ray of his cervical spine, which indicated mild degenerative changes. R. 261-61. In September of 2012, the physical therapy department issued Patrick a cane for arthralgia. R. 322. Patrick received a TENS unit in December of 2012 for treatment of chronic pain in the neck and arms. R. 292. At a primary care visit in March of 2013, he received a Toradol injection for pain. R. 315. Patrick's medications include Tramadol for pain, etodolac for arthritis, methocarbamol (a muscle relaxer), and amlodipine and chlorthalidone for hypertension. R. 193, 275.
A consultative physical examination was performed by Dr. Azhar Pasha on October 16, 2012. R. 275-77. Examination revealed mild synovitis in the small joints of the hands and feet and a two-inch laceration repair of the right hand. R. 276. There was no significant synovitis or range of motion limitations in any other joints or extremities. Id. Straight leg raises were negative at 65 degrees. Id. Strength was slightly decreased in the right hand, being 4/5; strength in the left hand was normal. Id. Dr. Pasha observed that there was no evidence of gout at the time of the examination and that Patrick was able to walk without the use of a cane. Id. Diagnoses were nearsightedness, farsightedness, poor dentition, previous neck injury with subjective right arm weakness, a history of gout, and a history of right hand laceration repair. Id.
Dr. Jan Boggs performed a comprehensive mental status examination on November 27, 2012. R. 279-81. At the examination, Patrick reported that he suffers from pain, which he rated at 8/10 at the time of the exam. R. 280. He also reported that he was intermittently homeless, had no income, and had felt depressed lately, stating that "there is a lot on me." Id. Patrick was oriented to time, place, and situation. Id. Dr. Boggs opined that he appeared to be of average intelligence, although literacy was not very well developed. Id. Patrick was able to repeat five digits forward and three in reverse. Id. He remembered two of five recent memory items. Id. He was capable of grocery store arithmetic and understood daily problem solving situations and proverbs. Id. Dr. Boggs's impression was as follows: Axis I, depressive disorder not otherwise specified; Axis II, no diagnosis and history of alcohol dependence, rule out dependence; and Axis III, gout, history of gunshot wound to the chest, and hypertension. R. 281. In his summary, Dr. Boggs stated that Patrick was "hanging by a thread" financially and was quite needful and was still in pain despite medication. Id. According to Dr. Boggs, Patrick is capable of understanding and following directions, although sustaining tasks could be more difficult. Id. Dr. Boggs described Patrick as "depressed and hobbled by gout/arthritic type pain." Id.
At the hearing, Patrick testified that he is homeless and stays at the home of a lady friend. R. 29-30. He stated that he has worked on and off for the past 30 years as a poultry catcher but that he can no longer perform this job because of problems with his left hand and knee. R. 33-34. Patrick also testified that he suffers from problems with his neck. R. 41. He spends most of his day watching television; occasionally he performs light yard work or takes out the garbage. R. 36. Plaintiff estimated that he could stand for 30 minutes. R. 37.
Also testifying at the hearing was a vocational expert (VE). The VE stated that Plaintiff's past relevant work as a poultry catcher is classified at the medium exertional level. R. 43.
III. The Decision of the ALJ and Analysis
In his decision, the ALJ worked through the familiar sequential evaluation process for determining disability. He found that Patrick has the severe impairments of history of right hand laceration and repair and history of previous neck injury with subjective right arm weakness. R. 14. The ALJ found that Patrick's gout, hypertension, depression, and alcohol and drug dependence were nonsevere impairments. R. 14-15. At step three, the ALJ determined that Patrick does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 16. The ALJ found that Patrick has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Patrick is capable of performing his past relevant work as a poultry catcher. R. 18. He therefore determined that Patrick is not disabled. Id.
In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, this court is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Muse v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). In his memorandum, Patrick makes two arguments: (1) that the ALJ erred in failing to find that his depression was not a severe impairment; and (2) that the ALJ erred in concluding that Patrick can perform his past relevant work.
Mental Impairment. Patrick argues that the ALJ erred in his determination that Patrick's depression was nonsevere. In making his decision at step two, the ALJ stated that he rejected the opinion of Dr. Boggs, who diagnosed Patrick with depression. Patrick ...