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Jones v. Astrue

September 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Melvin Jones brought this action for judicial review of a decision of the Social Security Commissioner, denying his application for supplemental security income. Mr. Jones has moved for a judgment of reversal or, in the alternative, for remand for a new administrative hearing. The government has moved for a judgment of affirmance of the denial of benefits. As explained below, the motion for judgment of reversal or remand will be denied , and the motion for judgment of affirmance will be granted.


Mr. Jones applied for supplemental security income on May 31, 2005, alleging that he had been unable to work since February 1, 2004, due to congestive heart failure, lung complications, gout, high blood pressure, and an eating disorder. AR at 72. The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Jones's claim on November 16, 2005 and again on reconsideration on May 25, 2007. Subsequently, Mr. Jones requested review and a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The request was granted and a hearing was held.*fn1 The issue before the ALJ was whether Mr. Jones was disabled under the Social Security Act ("SSA" or "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434.*fn2

The SSA defines disability as an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process in determining whether a claimant is disabled under the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ must first determine whether the claimant is working or performing substantial gainful activity. Id. § 416.920(a)(i) & (b). If not, the ALJ must then determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." Id. § 416.920(c); see also id. § 416.920(a)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the ALJ must then determine whether the impairment meets or is equal to an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"). Id. §§ 416.920(a)(iii) & (d), 416.925 & 416.926. If not, the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity, and whether this capacity permits the claimant to perform her past relevant work. Id. § 416.920(e) & (f); see also id. § 416.960. If the claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, taking into account his residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience. Id. § 416.920(g) & 416.960(c).

In a decision dated March 3, 2008, the ALJ found that Mr. Jones was not disabled within the meaning of the SSA and denied his application for benefits. AR at 15-26. The ALJ considered Mr. Jones's complete medical history. Id. at 15. The critical portion of that medical history began when Mr. Jones was admitted into Providence Hospital on March 25, 2004, due to shortness of breath. Id. at 285. The medical record indicates that he had normal motor activity and range of motion. Id. at 286. He walked easily with a normal gait and good balance. The doctor administered Albuterol and a nebulizer treatment, and prescribed Prednisone; Mr. Jones's breathing improved. Id.

Then, on May 20, 2004, Mr. Jones returned to Providence with shortness of breath. Id. at 157. Again, he had normal gait and motor activity. Id. at 158. The physician recommended cardiac monitoring, but Mr. Jones left against medical advice. Id. at 154. Five days later, on May 25, 2004, Mr. Jones reported to the hospital with swollen and painful feet. Id. at 275. Yet again, his motor activity and gait were normal. Id. at 276. He was diagnosed with gout, given medication, and discharged. Id. at 278. On June 7, 2004, Mr. Jones saw his own doctor, Dr. Ashwini Sardana who confirmed the gout diagnosis and also diagnosed congestive heart failure and hypertension. Id. at 325.

On August 5, 2004, Dr. M.V. Kumar, a consulting physician, reviewed Mr. Jones's medical records to determine Mr. Jones's functional abilities. Id. at 183-84. Dr. Kumar found that Mr. Jones's gout and emphysema were not severe, but his congestive heart failure and hypertension were severe. Even so, Dr. Kumar found that these conditions did not meet the Listings. Id.

On May 27, 2005, Mr. Jones had another appointment with Dr. Sardana. Dr. Sardana refilled certain prescriptions and noted that Mr. Jones's congestive heart failure was stable with medication. Id. at 322. Another consulting physician, Dr. Jerome Putnam, examined Mr. Jones on July 27, 2005. Dr. Putnam diagnosed congestive cardiomyopathy with a history of congestive heart failure; however, he noted no evidence of active cardiopulmonary disease and no significant evidence of obstructive airways disease. Id. at 211.

On February 20, 2006, Mr. Jones went to Washington Hospital Center for low back pain and underwent an MRI. The results showed degenerative disc changes. Id. at 234. On March 31, 2006, Mr. Jones saw Dr. Sardana, reporting a recent accident and lower back pain. Dr. Sardana renewed Mr. Jones's prescriptions. Id. at 311-12.

On August 5, 2006, Mr. Jones reported to Providence Hospital after a car accident, complaining of pain in the neck and left shoulder. Id. at 265-67. His gait and posture were normal. He was diagnosed with left shoulder and back strain and discharged. Id. Dr. Peter Moskovitz saw Mr. Jones on August 15, 2006. He had performed surgery on Mr. Jones when Mr. Jones was a child to treat knee deformities. Dr. Moskovitz noted asymmetrical lumbar posture and mild leg length discrepancy. Id. at 244. His impression was spinal stenosis, id., but a MRI did not reveal any significant stenosis. Id. at 367. The MRI showed a narrowing of the L1-2 and L4-5 disc spaces and dehydration, and mild bulging of the discs. Id.

On March 1, 2007, Dr. Kumar completed a residual functional capacity assessment, and determined that Mr. Jones could stand two hours and sit six hours in an eight hour work day. Id. at 329. On March 22, 2007, Dr. Rafael Lopez, a consulting physician, examined Mr. Jones. Dr. Lopez noted that Mr. Jones was able to stand erect and walk with a normal gait and he was able to heel-and-toe walk without difficulty. Id. at 337. He did not need an assistive device for ambulation.

Id. Further, he did not have any limitation of range of motion of his spine, he had normal strength in his arms and legs, and he had full use of his hand and fingers. Id. at 338-39.

On May 4, 2007, Dr. Louis Decker, Ph.D., conducted a psychological exam. He found that Mr. Jones displayed intact cognitive functions and logical thought processes. Id. at 345. Dr. Decker conducted IQ tests and found that Mr. Jones was within the average range of intellectual functioning. Id. Mr. Jones reported to Dr. Decker that he prepared meals for himself and his ...

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