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Rankin v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Rhode Island

March 30, 2014

DALE W. RANKIN, Plaintiff


JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Dale W. Rankin brings this action for judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's ("the Commissioner") final decision, as issued in accordance with the ruling of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 15, 2012, denying his claim for Disability Income Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XIV of the Social Security Act.

Mr. Rankin is a 38-year-old man who last worked in 2010. Over the years, he has worked in construction, as an apprentice plumber, a machinist, and in shipping and receiving. (Tr. at 39.)[1] On September 15, 2010, Mr. Rankin filed an application seeking DIB and SSI benefits. (Id. at 30.) In his application, Mr. Rankin cited multiple severe impairments including "pain disorder with both psychological and physical components; somatoform disorder; major depression; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status-post fusion; left foot drop; and reflex sympathetic dystrophy ("RSD")." (Id. at 13.)

The Commissioner initially denied his request. He requested review of his case and a hearing before an ALJ. Mr. Rankin and a vocational expert testified during the hearing. Post hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Rankin was not disabled in a manner such that he was entitled to receive SSI or DIB benefits. Mr. Rankin requested a review of the ruling, which the Appeals Council denied. Upon this denial, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final ruling. Before the Court are Mr. Rankin's Motion to Reverse (ECF No. 8) and the Commissioner's Motion to Affirm. (ECF No. 11.) I.FACTUAL BACKGROUND Mr. Rankin had lumbar spinal fusion surgery in December 2007 after unsuccessful physical therapy to treat the aftereffects of a car accident. (Tr. at 439-443.) After his March 5, 2010 disability onset date, he began treating with several doctors, raising physical issues from chronic back pain and insomnia to emotional issues such as anxiety and depression. He saw Dr. Stephen M. Scott in June 2010 for issues with his left foot. (Id. at 396-97.) Dr. Scott diagnosed him with a back disorder NOS, pain in limb, insomnia, anxiety disorder, headache, and sciatica. (Id. at 396.)

In August 2010, Mr. Rankin saw Dr. Gary L'Europa, complaining of short-term memory loss. (Id. at 306-309.) His test results, however, were normal and Dr. L'Europa opined that his memory may have been affected by the medications he was taking. (Id. at 308-309.) Observing his inability to flex his left foot, Dr. L'Europa prescribed continued physical therapy. (Id. at 309.) Mr. Rankin treated four times with a physical therapist, but was discharged because the treatment did not appear to help his recovery.[2] (Id. at 329.)

Mr. Rankin visited his primary care physician, Dr. Jason Austin, on September 10, 2010. Dr. Austin gave him a letter indicating that he was permanently disabled and incapable of working due to L-5 radiculopathy with foot drop and chronic pain. (Id. at 361.) That same month, Mr. Rankin was evaluated by Dr. Stuart Schneiderman for his pain. (Id. at 382-385.) Dr. Schneiderman opined that Mr. Rankin had "low back pain, degenerative disc disease, lumbar facet joint syndrome, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, status post-surgery, status post trauma, and possible RSD of the leg and lower back." (Id. at 384.) Mr. Rankin denied serious depression, memory loss, and shortness of breath upon examination. (Id. at 383.) Dr. Schneiderman recommended lumbar facet joint injections, but Mr. Rankin declined based on a past bad experience with cortisone injections. (Id. at 384.)

Mr. Rankin continued to treat with Dr. Austin, seeing him every two months, for breathing difficulties[3] and for help completing disability forms. (Id. at 386-395, 549-555, 560-564.)

Mr. Rankin also treated with Susan D. Mandel, a licensed social worker, to "deal with the long-term consequences of his 7/05 automobile accident." (Id. at 566.) He saw her approximately thirteen times from April to July 2011 and discussed his medical complaints as well as his goals for the future. (Id. at 566-67.)

On May 20, 2011, Mr. Rankin sought Dr. Schneiderman's help again for pain in his lower back that radiated down his legs. (Id. at 520.) The doctor again recommended injections; Mr. Rankin was open to those if they were covered by his insurance and indicated that he would determine if injections were a covered service. (Id.) Mr. Rankin did not follow up with Dr. Schneiderman's office about the injections.

To address his breathing difficulties, Mr. Rankin treated with Dr. William J. Beliveau in April and August 2011. (Id. at 516, 574.) He was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea and dyspnea, a mild obstructive restrictive ventilator defect consistent with asthma. (Id. at 574-585.)

Mr. Rankin filed an application for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income on September 15, 2010. These claims were denied and Mr. Rankin requested a hearing, at which he and Ruth Baruch, a vocational expert, testified. The ALJ denied Mr. Rankin benefits, finding that Mr. Rankin was not disabled from March 5, 2010 to the date of the decision. (Id. at 10-22.)

The ALJ concluded that Mr. Rankin had the RFC to perform light work such as light unskilled production type jobs such as bench assembler, hand packager, inspector, or printed circuit board assembler and those jobs exist in significant numbers in the economy. (Id. at 15.)


A district court's role in reviewing the Commissioner's decision is limited. Although questions of law are reviewed de novo, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The term "substantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 ...

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