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Swenson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

July 18, 2014

JAMES A. SWENSON, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, James A. Swenson, Jr., moves for reversal of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (SSA) and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the SSA. The Commissioner opposes the motion. The court affirms.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 4, 2008, James A. Swenson, Jr. filed a claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the SSA and a claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the SSA. AR 183-194.[1] Swenson alleged a disability onset date of September 2, 2000. AR 183. The Social Security Administration initially denied this claim on July 22, 2008, and again upon reconsideration on January 13, 2009. AR 91-92, 96, 100. On March 25, 2009, Swenson requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). AR 111-12. On September 30, 2010, the ALJ held a hearing on Swenson's claims. AR 46-79. On October 12, 2010, the ALJ determined that Swenson was not disabled at any time between September 2, 2000, and October 12, 2010 (the date of the ALJ decision). AR 18-26.

On June 14, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Swenson's timely request for review. AR 6-10. Thus, the unfavorable October 12, 2010, decision became the Commissioner's final decision. AR 8. On October 23, 2012, Swenson filed a timely civil action in this court, alleging that the ALJ's decision was erroneous. Docket 1.

FACTS

Born on May 20, 1958, Swenson was 42 years old on his alleged disability onset date, September 2, 2000, and on his date last insured, September 30, 2000. AR 18, 183. Swenson graduated from high school in 1976 and obtained some college education thereafter. AR 48-49, 232, 386. He did not attend special education classes. AR 232.

Between 1976 and 2000, Swenson worked in framing and closing houses, commercial construction, as a veterinarian assistant for his father, and as a concrete mason. AR 49-50, 265. Swenson continued to work even after his alleged disability onset date as an assistant for his father until some time in 2001 when his father passed away. AR 49, 206, 265. After his father died, Swenson worked "some side cast jobs, " such as "helping out a couple of farmers doing some odds and ends." AR 52-53, 278. He reported, however, that he has stopped these side jobs "for quite a while now." AR 52.[2]

Even before the onset of his alleged disability, Swenson was unable to generate a significant income, with $13, 610 in 1982 being his highest year's income. AR 199-210. Swenson had no recorded income for the years 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 2000, and in 2001, Swenson only earned $999. AR 199.

Swenson lives alone and completes his own chores. AR 49-53, 65, 247, 410. Swenson frequently goes on walks and visits friends. AR 67, 250, 411. Shortly before the ALJ's review, Swenson lifted and carried the "lighter" boxes to help his friend move. AR 60-61.

I. Depression/Anxiety

Swenson has experienced symptoms of anxiety since grade school and has struggled with depression since 1980. AR 384, 394. Specifically, he has had four major depressive episodes (occurring in 1980, 1983, 2001, and 2008), and has daily panic attacks. AR 394.

Swenson has seen several medical professionals in regards to his mental health. Dr. Michael Lastine, Swenson's primary care physician, opined that Swenson's anxiety neurosis and agoraphobia[3] were so severe, "that he is disabled from that alone, " and could not go out in public. AR 506. Tony Sorensen, Psy.D., LP, Swenson's primary therapist at Southwestern Medical Center, diagnosed Swenson with major depressive disorder, [4] panic disorder, [5] agoraphobia, and alcohol dependence. Sorensen gave Swenson a global assessment of functioning (GAF) rating of 47, [6] but noted that his overall mental condition was "fair-good." AR 384-92, 482-91, 500-502. Dr. Jim Horgan, of Southwestern Mental Health Center, diagnosed Swenson as having Somatoform Disorder, [7] and gave Swenson a GAF rating of 60. AR 413. Additionally, Dr. Horgan opined that his anxiety was insignificant and medication "may help [Swenson] enough to function well in some limited work environments" and that "... given the right environment, [Dr. Horgan thought Swenson] could accomplish some more tasks and be more productive." AR 413. Lastly, Dr. Viel, with Pipestone County Medical Center, reported that Swenson was exhibiting symptoms "consistent with somebody with bipolar disorder." AR 508. Swenson, however, has not received medication for bipolar disorder. AR 266, 508.

As of his hearing, Swenson was taking Amitiptyline and Lorazepam for his anxiety and depression. AR 266; AR 63. Swenson testified that he thought his medications were keeping him "fairly stable." AR 64. ...


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