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Ledoux v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

July 6, 2016

John A. Ledoux, Jr.
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2016 DNH 112

          ORDER

          Joseph DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge

         John A. Ledoux, Jr. seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying his applications for social security disability benefits. Ledoux contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in weighing the medical opinions in the record, in failing to consider the limiting effects of other impairments, in assessing a residual functional capacity for full-time work, and in relying on the vocational expert's opinion based on an incomplete hypothetical question. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm the decision.

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a social security case, the court "is limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence." Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court defers to the ALJ's factual findings as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Astralis Condo. Ass'n v. Sec'y Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010).

         Background[1]

         Ledoux applied for social security disability benefits and supplemental security income in April of 2007, alleging a disability since January 15, 2006. His application was denied and, after a video hearing, an ALJ issued a decision on April 6, 2010, finding that Ledoux was not disabled. On judicial review, the court reversed and remanded the decision on January 24, 2011. The same ALJ held another video hearing and then issued a decision on March 1, 2012, again finding that Ledoux was not disabled. When the administrative files were not available to allow review, the court again reversed and remanded.

         A new ALJ held a third video hearing on April 2, 2015, and issued a decision on April 24, 2015, finding that Ledoux was not disabled from the alleged onset date through his last insured date of March 31, 2011. The ALJ found, however, that Ledoux was disabled after October 24, 2012, because his age category changed.[2] When the Appeals Council informed Ledoux that the ALJ's decision was the final decision, he again sought judicial review.

         Ledoux was forty-three years old in 2006, when he alleges his disability began. He had worked as a tow truck driver, a heavy equipment driver, and motorcycle repairer. For purposes of challenging the current decision, Ledoux is seeking social security disability benefits and alleges disability caused by physical impairments due to disc disease, headaches, and coronary artery disease.

         A. Medical Records

         In September of 2006, Ledoux reported during an initial healthcare assessment that he had lower back pain that caused him to double over at times and interrupted his sleep. An x-ray showed a collapsed disc at L4-L5 with advanced degenerative bone changes and an "anterior and posterior marginal spur causing some focal stenosis of the spinal canal." Ledoux's gait was coordinated and smooth. The physician's assistant prescribed pain medication.

         At appointments over the rest of 2006, Ledoux reported that medication helped him sleep but that he still had back pain and also had numbness in his leg and foot. In December of 2006, an MRI showed disc herniation at L5-S1 and L4-L5 along with "collapse and loss of disc height as well as disc dessication" at L3 to S1. Despite worsening back pain, Ledoux continued to be self-employed doing carpentry into 2007.

         In April of 2007, Ledoux reported increased pain and right leg weakness. He was limping, and his range of motion was limited by low back pain. Straight leg testing was positive on his right leg. He also reported that he had not worked since the winter.

         By mid-2007, physicians agreed that nonoperative treatment of Ledoux's back pain had been unsuccessful. On July 9, 2007, Dr. Yogish Kamath operated on Ledoux, doing a lumbar laminectomy with L3-L5 disc fusion. He was discharged from the hospital on July 14, 2007.

         In late July of 2007, Dr. Matt Masewic, a state agency physician, reviewed Ledoux's records and concluded that despite Ledoux's severe lumbar disc disease, he could work at the sedentary exertional level and do all postural activities. Another state agency physician reviewed Dr. Masewic's opinion and agreed.

         Ledoux reported to a physician's assistant in mid-August that he was symptom free. His physical examination produced normal results. Dr. Kamath cautioned that Ledoux was to avoid bending, contact sports, and lifting weights over twenty-five to thirty pounds. Dr. Kamath also stated that Ledoux could not return to his work in the construction industry.

         Physical therapist Ernest Roy performed a functional capacity assessment of Ledoux on August 21, 2007. Because of Ledoux's recent surgery, Roy could not do some of the necessary testing. He found that Ledoux could occasionally do postural activities, walk, stand, and drive and was not limited in hand movements and manipulation. Roy also found that Ledoux could work at the light exertional level for eight hours daily.

         A state agency consultant, Dr. Akbar N. Sadri, reviewed Ledoux's records and issued an opinion on March 21, 2008. He found that Ledoux could do work at the sedentary exertional level with certain other limitations.

         In October of 2008, Ledoux was hospitalized for chest pain radiating down his arms. He was diagnosed with a heart attack. He had a surgical procedure to insert a stent in his left circumflex coronary artery. His post-operative checks reported that he was doing well.

         After he fell in January of 2009, Ledoux reported to a physician's assistant that he had an exacerbation of back pain. He also noted chronic neuropathy of his right leg and foot since the surgery. An x-ray showed no acute fracture or displacement of the surgical hardware. The physician's assistant prescribed pain medication.

         During a physical therapy consultation in March of 2009, Ledoux reported that although surgery had improved his pain, he still had chronic back pain. The physical therapist issued a TENS unit and recommended home exercise. In May, Ledoux reported chronic back pain with a recent increase in pain. The physical therapist noted that Ledoux was stiff ...


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