United States District Court, D. Minnesota
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PAUL A. MAGNUSON, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Nelson's Motion and grants the Commissioner's Motion.
Artis Nelson is seeking social-security disability benefits. When the administrative hearing in this case occurred, Nelson was 36 years old, weighed 185 pounds, and stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall. (Admin. R. (Docket No. 10) at 38.) He had completed high school, obtained an automotive training certificate, and worked as a bus driver, food worker, janitor, and snow shoveler. (Id. at 39, 274-75.) He most recently worked mowing lawns (id. at 225-27), but had not worked for about a year before the hearing because of persistent headaches and chronic pain (id. at 39-40). He was taking medications for depression, ADHD, headaches, his prostate, high blood pressure, and pain. (Id. at 41-42.)
On December 22, 2010, Nelson applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Id. at 210-24.) He alleged that he became disabled on October 15, 2005. (Id. at 268-69.) The Commissioner of Social Security denied his application initially (id. at 54-73), and on reconsideration (id. at 78-101). Nelson then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), which happened on January 7, 2013. (Id. at 120-21, 191-208.)
At the hearing, Nelson testified about his alleged disability, and specifically about the extent of his headaches. (Id. at 42-44.) He explained that he had been suffering daily headaches since he was in a car accident in 2011. (Id. at 42-43.) He visited several clinics and neurologists, but none were able to pinpoint the cause of the headaches or prescribe a course of treatment. (Id. at 43.) Most often, he would lie down and rest for relief. (Id.) Yet when the headaches were more intense, he would go to the emergency room and receive morphine to alleviate the pain. (Id. at 44.)
A vocational expert, Beverly Solyntjes, also testified at the hearing, and primarily to a hypothetical that the ALJ posed. (Id. at 45-47.) To assess whether Nelson could perform other jobs in the regional or national economy, the ALJ asked Solyntjes to "tak[e] such a person the same age, education, [and] work experience as [Nelson]" and "assume such a person with the residual functional capacity for at least medium work, subject to routine, repetitive three- to four-step tasks; brief and superficial contacts with coworkers and the public; and stressors limited to the repetitive work setting." (Id. at 45-46.) Solyntjes responded that such a person could not do Nelson's past work but could find a position as an industrial cleaner, hand packager, or package sealer machine tender. (Id. at 46.)
On January 31, 2013, the ALJ affirmed the Commissioner's denial of Nelson's application. (Id. at 9-33.) Following the familiar five-step evaluation process, the ALJ decided that Nelson was not disabled between the alleged onset date and the date of his decision, and thus was not entitled to social-security disability benefits. (Id. at 12-24.) As relevant here, the ALJ determined that Nelson had the following severe impairments:
major depressive disorder; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; alcohol dependence in remission; anxiety disorder NOS; headaches associated with neck strain and minimal degenerative changes of the cervical spine; borderline intellectual functioning; pain disorder; status post video arthroscopy of January 23, 2012, right knee; and low back pain associated with degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine.
(Id. at 14-15.) "After careful consideration of the entire record, " the ALJ found that Nelson had the residual functional capacity to perform "medium work" subject to the following limitations:
he is able to perform work that involves no more than routine, repetitive, 3-4 step tasks; he is able to perform work that involves stressors of the type found in at most a routine repetitive work setting; and he is able to perform work that involves no more than brief and superficial contact with coworkers and members of the public.
(Id. at 17-22.) And based on that residual functional capacity, as well as his age, education, and work experience, the ALJ concluded that Nelson could not perform any past relevant work but could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, like a cleaner, hand packager, or package sealer machine tender. (Id. at 22-24.)
Nelson next requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council (id. at 7-8); the Appeals Council denied that request, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision (id. at 3-6). He then filed a civil action in this Court, pursuing judicial review and reversal or remand of the Commissioner's decision. (Compl. (Docket No. 1).) ...