Baker v. Commissioner, SSA
MEMORANDUM ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE for 17 Report and Recommendations. ORDERED that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is AFFIRMED. Signed by District Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III on 3/13/2018. (daj, )
United States District Court
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
TROY LYNN BAKER
Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-020
(Judge Mazzant/Judge Nowak)
MEMORANDUM ADOPTING REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Came on for consideration the report of the United States Magistrate Judge in this action,
this matter having been heretofore referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636.
On February 5, 2018, the report of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. #17) was entered containing
proposed findings of fact and recommendations that the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security be affirmed. Having received the report of the Magistrate Judge, having considered
Plaintiff Troy Lynn Baker’s timely filed Objection (Dkt. #18), the Commissioner’s Response
(Dkt. #19), and having conducted a de novo review of Plaintiff’s claims and all relevant pleadings,
the Court is of the opinion that the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are correct,
and the Court hereby adopts the Magistrate Judge’s report (Dkt. #17) as the findings and
conclusions of the Court.
The facts in this case have been set forth in detail by the Magistrate Judge, and need not
be duplicated in their entirety herein (see Dkt. #17). In summary, on March 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed
his application for disability income benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), alleging an onset of disability date of April 6, 2011 (TR 16). Plaintiff alleged impairments
of back injury, neck injury, depression, overflow incontinence, high blood pressure, and walking
assistance with a cane as medical and physical conditions that limit his ability to work
(TR 22, 190). Plaintiff’s claims were initially denied by notice on August 6, 2013, and again upon
reconsideration on January 27, 2014 (TR 16). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing
(TR 131–32), which the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held on December 9, 2014
(TR 16, 52–89). At hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented, and a
vocational expert. On April 29, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits and finding
Plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation process. Plaintiff requested review
of the ALJ’s decision on June 29, 2015 (TR 10–12), which the Appeals Council denied on
November 9, 2016, making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner
(TR 1–5). On January 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court (Dkt. #1). On April 20,
2017, the Administrative Record was received from the Social Security Administration (Dkt. #10).
Plaintiff filed his Brief on May 22, 2017 (Dkt. #12), and the Commissioner filed a Brief in Support
of the Commissioner’s Decision on July 21, 2017 (Dkt. #13). Plaintiff filed his reply brief on
July 31, 2017 (Dkt. #16). On February 5, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and
Recommendation (Dkt. #17).
On February 13, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Objection to the
Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge (Dkt. #18). On February 27, 2018, the
Commissioner filed a Response to Plaintiff’s Objection (Dkt. #19).
Under the law, a party who files timely written objections to a magistrate judge’s report
and recommendation is entitled to a de novo determination of those findings or recommendations
to which the party specifically objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2)-(3).
Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion — that even if the ALJ erred in failing to
find Plaintiff’s chronic pain syndrome a severe impairment at step two, such error was harmless
No Harm at Step Two
Plaintiff objects, as he did in his original briefing, that the ALJ erred in failing to identify
Plaintiff’s chronic pain syndrome as a severe disability at step two. The Magistrate Judge in
analyzing this argument, stated:
the ALJ found at step two, that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
‘degenerative disc disease and status post knee repair surgery’. . . .[but] did not
however find Plaintiff’s chronic pain syndrome to be severe. Even were the Court
to assume this failure by the ALJ constitutes error, such error would be harmless
because, the ALJ, at step four, specifically included limitations taking into account
the effects of Plaintiff’s pain. The ALJ’s RFC analysis discusses in detail:
Plaintiff’s subjective complaints of pain and hearing testimony related to his pain,
Plaintiff’s treating and examining physicians’ opinions, and Plaintiff’s medical
(Dkt. #17 at p. 11). Plaintiff asserts that the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion is erroneous because
“such finding ignores the nature of chronic pain syndrome; that it manifests in disproportionate
pain and other symptoms such as muscle spasms, fatigue, tenderness, depression, and anxiety”
(Dkt. #18 at p. 2). Plaintiff continues, “[a]s the ALJ never acknowledged chronic pain syndrome
as a medically determinable impairment at step two, it is merely conjecture that it was considered
at later steps of the sequential disability analysis. . . . With no indication that the ALJ recognized
the condition, [Plaintiff] contends that it cannot be said that the ALJ considered the condition in
the later steps of the disability analysis” (Dkt. #18 at pp. 2–3). The Magistrate Judge correctly
addressed Plaintiff’s argument in the underlying report:
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ only considered Plaintiff’s pain symptoms, and
erred by failing to consider all of Plaintiff’s symptoms associated with his chronic
pain syndrome, namely, spasms, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. The Court
disagrees. The ALJ properly considered the symptoms associated with Plaintiff’s
chronic pain syndrome, including his symptoms of spasms, fatigue, depression, and
anxiety, in his Step Four analysis [TR 22-26]; see also Jones v. Berryhill, No. C163
5911-RSM, 2017 WL 3614252, at *7 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 23, 2017) (the court
affirmed the ALJ’s decision where “Mr. Jones fail[ed] to explain how error resulted
from the ALJ’s failure to consider chronic pain as a separate impairment rather than
an alleged symptom. . . .[and] failed to identify evidence indicating that the
diagnosis of chronic pain produced pain or symptoms independent of or different
from those discussed by the ALJ with respect to his other various impairments. The
ALJ thoroughly discusse[d] Mr. Jones allegations of pain throughout the decision
and properly discounted Mr. Jones’ symptom testimony.”).
(Dkt. #17 at p. 11, n. 2). The record does not support Plaintiff’s contention that the ALJ’s RFC
finding “ignores the nature of chronic pain syndrome” (Dkt. #18 at p. 2), or that the ALJ failed to
consider Plaintiff’s chronic pain syndrome in the later steps of the Determination (Dkt. #18 at p. 3).
Indeed, here, as the Magistrate Judge found, the record depicts the ALJ’s consideration of
Plaintiff’s chronic pain syndrome symptoms, including specifically spasms, fatigue, depression,
and anxiety, in his Step Four analysis (TR 22–26). In the Determination, the ALJ discussed
Plaintiff’s symptoms, including that “[Plaintiff] initially alleged that he was disabled due
to. . . depression. . . .He indicated that his pain sometimes made it difficult to get along with
others” (TR 22); “[Plaintiff] reported no depression, anxiety, and no psychotic symptoms”
(TR 23); “[Plaintiff] reported that he had continued chronic pain. . . .Dr. Lopez diagnosed
[Plaintiff] with chronic pain syndrome” (TR 24); “[Plaintiff] reported that his pain caused a
significant disability with general activity, mood, walking ability, normal work relations with other
people, sleep, and enjoyment of life. . . .Dr. Sundaresan also noted that there were no significant
psychiatric comorbidities, except chronic depression which was consistent with [Plaintiff’s]
chronic pain condition” (TR 24); “Dr. Sundaresan opined that [Plaintiff] had chronic pain that was
unlikely to be cured by surgery and noted that the chronic pain decreased [Plaintiff’s] quality [of]
life and physical and psychosocial functioning” (TR 25). Notably, Plaintiff has failed to cite any
record provisions to the contrary or legal authority in support of his position. Accordingly,
Plaintiff’s Objection is overruled.
Having received the report of the United States Magistrate Judge (Dkt. #17), having
considered Plaintiff’s timely filed Objection (Dkt. #18), the Commissioner’s Response (Dkt. #19),
and having conducted a de novo review, the Court is of the opinion that the findings and
conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are correct and adopts the Magistrate Judge’s report (Dkt. #17)
. as the findings and conclusions of the Court.
It is, therefore, ORDERED that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is
IT IS SO ORDERED.
SIGNED this 13th day of March, 2018.
AMOS L. MAZZANT
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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