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Oswald v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 15, 2017

Keith W. Oswald, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Karl E. Osterhout, Esq., Osterhout Disability Law, LLC, and Edward C. Olson, Esq., Attorney at Law, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Gregory G. Brooker, Esq., United States Attorney's Office, counsel for Defendant.


          BECKY R. THORSON, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Keith W. Oswald seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. D. Minn. LR 7.2(c)(1). For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.


         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff, Keith W. Oswald, filed a Title II application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on September 20, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2010. (Tr. 181, 187.)[1]Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on April 13, 2012, and upon reconsideration on November 9, 2012. (Tr. 97, 112.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on February 26, 2014. (Tr. 39.) The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims on July 18, 2014. (Tr. 11-33.) On October 7, 2014, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's July 18, 2014 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         On December 3, 2015, Plaintiff timely filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. No. 1.) The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to D. Minn. LR 7.2(c). (Doc. Nos. 16, 18.) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by discounting the opinions of an examining consultative psychologist and a non-examining state agency psychologist. (Doc. No. 17, Def.'s Mem. 4-19.) Defendant asks the Court to affirm the Commissioner's decision because the ALJ properly addressed those opinions, and the denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. No. 19, Def.'s Mem. 7-13.)

         II. General Background

         Plaintiff was forty-three years old on June 1, 2010, his alleged onset date.

         (Tr. 410.) He graduated from high school and was in the United States Army from 1985 until 1989, stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. (Tr. 213, 406.) While in the Army, he completed a metal working course, and then received a general discharge. (Tr. 214, 406.) He worked as a carpet installer from 1985 to 2008; a small engine mechanic/repairman from 1985 to 2010; and a welder/assembler from 2005 to 2007. (Tr. 214, 232.) Plaintiff also worked intermittently as a cook. (Id.) Plaintiff's last job was as a part-time stir fry cook at a Chinese restaurant. (Tr. 302.) He left that job due to an anxiety attack in October 2013. (Tr. 44, 61.) Since September 2011, Plaintiff has lived in an apartment in Hibbing, Minnesota. (Tr. 43.)

         III. The ALJ's Findings and Decision

         In his decision dated July 18, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and denied Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 33.) The ALJ proceeded through the five-step evaluation process provided in the social security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). These steps are as follows: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant is severely impaired; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations; (4) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and, if not, (5) whether the claimant can perform other jobs available in sufficient numbers in the national economy. Id. § 404.1520(a)-(f).

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 13.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: spine impairment with radiculopathy status post 2010 fusion; degenerative joint disease; right shoulder impairment; residual pain status post bilateral knee surgeries; chronic pain syndrome; vertigo; affective mood disorder; anxiety disorders; somatic dysfunction; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and a history of alcohol abuse. (Id.) The ALJ concluded that the following impairments or conditions were non-severe: carpal tunnel syndrome; bilateral arm numbness; right epicondylitis (tennis elbow); obesity; smoking; right finger soft tissue injury; shingles; sinus bradycardia; hypertension; and headaches. (Tr. 13-15.) The ALJ reasoned that these impairments “were not shown to result in more than minimal interference with ...

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