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Dallman v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

February 3, 2017





         Plaintiff Billy Dallman appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of his application for supplemental security income. ECF No. 3. Plaintiff contends the Court should reverse the ALJ's decision because the ALJ improperly (1) found that Dallman's back pain did not constitute a severe impairment, (2) rejected Dallman's testimony concerning the severity of his symptoms, and (3) discounted the opinion of two treatment providers. The Commissioner of Social Security asks the Court to affirm the ALJ's decision. After reviewing the record and relevant authority, as set forth below, the Court finds that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards and the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision and therefore denies Plaintiff's motion and grants the Commissioner's motion


         A. Statement of Facts[1]

         Plaintiff Billy Dallman was born on December 26, 1974, and was 37 years old at the time he filed his claim. AR 63. At the time he filed his claim, Dallman was a resident of Ellensburg, Washington, where he lived with his wife and three children. AR 42. Dallman has not worked consistently since 2001. AR 189, 223. He alleges that he has been unable to work since that time because of bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, back injuries, knee injuries, and thyroid disorder. AR 19, 63, 188.

         Dallman has a long history of physical and mental conditions. Dallman reported significant childhood abuse and trauma, and also drug and alcohol use beginning at a very young age. AR 326-27. Dallman did not complete high school and does not have a GED. AR 47. Dallman reports having knee pain since surgery in the early 1990s that has worsened over time, and back pain since an injury in 2002. AR 204, 214, 414-15, 428. Dallman was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in January 2006. AR 413. Dallman has been hospitalized for psychiatric illness on two occasions: In July 2009, after being found naked on his neighbor's deck and punching and choking his girlfriend in response to command auditory hallucinations; and in May 2012, after making claims to a mental health professional that, among other things, he was god, he was 2012 years, and he would take care of all of the evil in the world. AR 247. At discharge in May 2012, he was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder with psychotic features. AR 245. At the time of this application Dallman was taking a number of medications including: Cogentin, for side effects from anti-psychotic medications; Depakote, for depression and bi-polar disorder; Hydrocodone, for pain; Levoxyl, because his thyroid was removed; Meloxicam, for arthritis and joint pain; Methocaramol, for muscle spasms; and Risperdal, for bi-polar disorder. AR 218-19.

         Dallman reports that on a day-to-day basis, he drinks coffee, takes care of his children, and eats meals. AR 205. He reports requiring reminders to do routine personal care and take his medications. AR 206. He does light housework and occasionally makes simple meals. AR 206. Dallman attends counseling once per week. AR 209. Dallman asserts that the pain in his back and knees make sitting, standing and lifting difficult, and that his mental disorders cause him to be anxious and avoid social interactions. AR 204, 209.

         B. Procedural History

         On June 11, 2012, Dallman filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging an inability to work since January 2002 as a result of bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, back injury, knee injury, and thyroid disorder. AR 19, 171. This application was denied on July 17, 2012, and denied on reconsideration on October 31, 2012. AR 19, 74, 88. Dallman filed a request for a hearing on December 6, 2012. AR 19. A hearing occurred before an ALJ on April 23, 2014. AR 19. On June 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Dallman not disabled and denying his claim for supplemental security income. AR 19-31. On August 20, 2014, Dallman requested review by the Social Security Administration Appeals Council, asserting that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, the decision contained legal errors, and the ALJ's credibility determination was legally insufficient. AR 14. The Council denied Dallman's request on September 17, 2014. AR 1-5. Dallman filed this action on November 17, 2015. ECF No. 1.


         A “disability” is defined as the “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The decision-maker uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         Step one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two.

         Step two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three compares the claimant's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively ...

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