United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
BYRON J. DEGEYTER,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
C. MICHAEL HILL, Magistrate Judge.
This social security appeal was referred to me for review, Report and Recommendation pursuant to this Court's Standing Order of July 8, 1993. Byron J. Degeyter, born September 6, 1958, filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on November 16, 2007, alleging disability as of July 31, 1999,  due to a combination of physical and mental impairments. Following a hearing, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Benito A. Lobo issued a decision on September 14, 2009, finding that claimant was disabled from August 1, 1999, through March 31, 2004; however, no period of disability or disability freeze could be awarded because claimant's disability ended more than 34 months prior to the filing of the application for benefits. (Tr. 25). The ALJ determined that claimant did not become disabled again at any point from April 1, 2004 through the date last insured of December 31, 2005. (Tr. 14-26).
After the Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review, claimant filed an action with this Court on November 2, 2010. Degeyter v. Astrue, No. 6:10-cv-1672 (TLM-CMH). On July 7, 2011, the Commissioner of Social Security filed an Unopposed Motion to Remand. (Tr. 996-999). By Order dated July 8, 2011, Judge Melançon granted the Motion to Remand, and reversed and remanded the case pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Tr. 995). On August 12, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded claimant's claim for a new hearing. (Tr. 1000-03).
A new hearing was held before ALJ Rowena E. DeLoach on July 23, 2012. (Tr. 947-92). On October 15, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 928-41). Following denial of claimant's request for review with the Appeals Council on December 19, 2013 (Tr. 918-21), claimant filed the instant action in this Court on February 21, 2014.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
After a review of the entire administrative record and the briefs filed by the parties, and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), I find that there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision of non-disability and that the Commissioner's decision comports with all relevant legal standards. Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 1992).
In fulfillment of F.R.Civ.P. 52, I find that the Commissioner's findings and conclusions are supported by substantial evidence, which can be outlined as follows:
(1) Records from Dr. John Cobb dated November 1, 1999 to February 28, 2007.
In November, 1993, claimant sustained a work-related injury to his back, for which he was seen by Dr. Cobb, an orthopedic surgeon, on September 19, 1994. (Tr. 201). Dr. Cobb released him to return to his job as a truck driver on February 23, 1999.
Claimant was able to work through July 1999. (Tr. 21). As of August 1, 1999, his condition had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer work. Dr. Cobb referred claimant to Dr. Hodges, a pain management specialist. (Tr. 233, 301).
After conservative treatment failed to relieve his symptoms, claimant underwent a discogram on January 17, 2002, which revealed an annular tear. (Tr. 216). Dr. Cobb's diagnosis was a symptomatic disc disruption and anterior column failure at L5-S1. (Tr. 232). On February 27, 2003, claimant underwent an anterior lumbar interbody fusion at L5-S1. (Tr. 204-05, 210-12).
On March 22, 2004, claimant was feeling "pretty good" and was staying "fairly active." (Tr. 226). His neurological examination was normal, and his stance, posture and gait were "relatively normal."
Dr. Cobb reviewed claimant's FCE (Functional Capacity Evaluation) report, and opined that claimant was at maximum medical improvement and was ready to return to work. He noted that FCE showed that he could not return to work offshore, but he could perform light to medium work where heavy lifting, straining, twisting and unprotected heights were not necessary.
(2) Records from Dr. Daniel Hodges dated October 9, 2001 to December 17, 2007.
On October 9, 2001, claimant started treatment with Dr. Hodges for pain management. (Tr. 301). His assessment was multilevel discogenic low back pain at L4-5, L5-S1 and anterior column failure. (Tr. 302). He prescribed pain medication. (Tr. 303).
Following surgery, claimant returned to Dr. Hodges on March 15, 2004. (Tr. 289). Dr. Hodges noted that claimant's recent lumbar CT revealed a solid fusion, but there was the possibility of some L5 nerve root impingement. He observed that claimant's pain was responding "reasonably well" to medication. He opined that claimant was able to perform light work activity with restrictions on bending, stooping, pushing, pulling, crawling, etc.
On November 17, 2004, Dr. Hodges reported that claimant had "excellent overall pain abatement." (Tr. 286). He stated that claimant "seemed to be doing quite well at this point."
On March 17, 2005, claimant complained of continued back pain which was aggravated with activity. (Tr. 283). On examination, claimant's lumbar range of motion remained somewhat restricted, but he was neurologically intact. (Tr. 284). Dr. Hodges continued his schedule of Darvocet for breakthrough pain and Celebrex as an anti-inflammatory. He stated that claimant was unfit for work duties, but encouraged him to gradually begin increasing his social and recreational activities in the community.
On November 14, 2005, Dr. Hodges' diagnosis was "history of anterior column failure with subsequent spine surgery with excellent overall pain abatement." (Tr. 280). Dr. Hodges stated that claimant seemed to be reasonably well-adjusted to his limitations both physically and emotionally, and knew activity-wise what he could and could not do.
On March 13, 2006, claimant continued with back pain, which was aggravated with activity. (Tr. 277). Dr. Hodges' assessment was history of failed back syndrome with persistent acute and chronic pain with secondary anxiety and depression. (Tr. 279).
On September 11, 2006, Dr. Hodges stated that claimant seemed to be doing "reasonably well" with his medications as prescribed. (Tr. 274).
(3) Records from Dr. James H. Blackburn dated January 21, 2003 to May 14, 2007.
Claimant saw a psychiatrist, Dr. Blackburn, starting on January 21, 2003. (Tr. 455). At that time, Dr. Blackburn's assessment was a major depression that was part of claimant's chronic pain disorder with physical and psychological components, with concomitant significant anxiety. (Tr. 461-62). He recommended medication. (Tr. 462).
On March 12, 2004, Dr. Blackburn reported that claimant had "improved significantly." (Tr. 481). His mood was better and more stable. He was ...