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Brimblecom v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 12, 2019

BRADLEY BRIMBLECOM, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Claimant Bradley Brimblecom seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) denying his application for disability and disability insurance benefits.[1] (AR 27.) Brimblecom contends that the administrative law judge (the “ALJ”) did not incorporate his mental impairments in formulating his residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Because I find that the ALJ adequately did so, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Brimblecom applied for disability and disability insurance benefits on September 9, 2014, with an alleged disability onset date of April 8, 2014. (AR 185.) His application was initially denied on January 26, 2015 (AR 104), and again upon reconsideration on June 22, 2015 (AR 114). Brimblecom was then granted an evidentiary hearing before ALJ Peter Kimball on May 25, 2017. (AR 13.)

         At that hearing, Brimblecom testified that he was unable to return to work because of a myriad of symptoms, including a sore throat and headaches, as well as difficulty “trying to stay awake, bending, walking, [or] standing . . . for any long periods of time.” (AR 44.) He has not been gainfully employed since being terminated from his position with Link Snacks on August 10, 2014. (AR 44, 210.)

         A. Medical, Educational and Employment History

         While working at Link Snacks in April of 2013, Brimblecom fainted. (AR 303.) The resulting medical examination revealed a thyroid condition that Brimblecom believes contributes to his symptoms. (AR 48.) He has also been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (AR 418), chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”) (AR 445), throat polyps (AR 366), gastroesophageal reflux disease (AR 419), cervical strain (AR 420), and near synoptic episodes (AR 297). Finally, he suffers from obesity. (AR 422.)

         In addition to these physical impairments, claimant's background suggests possible mental limitations. When Brimblecom was nine years old he received a score of 72 on an IQ test; one year later his score improved to 87, although verbal deficiencies remained. (AR 402.) At the time of the second test, Brimblecom was found to be “1 to 2 years behind in his school work.” (Id.) Going forward, Brimblecom testified that he continued to struggle in school, especially with reading, writing, and mathematics, until being expelled from high school for disciplinary reasons. (AR 41.) Despite these struggles, Brimblecom earned his GED in 2016. (AR 426.)

         As an adult, Brimblecom has been employed as a cook and, more recently, a sanitation worker (AR 210), although he testified that he struggled to remember orders as a cook (AR 43). At the time of his hearing, Brimblecom testified that he still struggled with reading, although he did occasionally read the newspaper. (AR 41-42.) Further, he reported struggling with concentration and persistence due to his fatigue. (AR 40.) Even so, Brimblecom could drive for over an hour, mow the lawn, use a snow blower, had regular social interactions with his family, spent a considerable amount of time caring for his disabled wife, and performed household chores. (AR 40, 50-53.)

         B. ALJ Decision

         The ALJ concluded that claimant Brimblecom had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since April 8, 2014. (AR 15.) The ALJ also concluded that claimant had four, severe impairments: COPD, environmental allergies, obesity, and “a history of verbal performance deficits.” (Id.)

         Balancing Brimblecom's testimony that he struggled with reading and understanding information while in school and during previous employment against the GED he earned after the onset of his claimed disability, and his testimony that he enjoyed reading the newspaper “and looking at magazines, ” the ALJ found that Brimblecom had a moderate impairment in “understanding, remembering, and applying information.” (AR 20.) The ALJ further credited claimant's testimony that he had “trouble understanding orders, would lose track of things when trying to prep his work . . . and was not able to keep up” while working as a cook. (Id.)

         Finally, the ALJ determined that claimant had mild impairments in three other functional areas. (AR 20-21.) First, he found that Brimblecom was mildly impaired in his ability to interact with others based on his interaction with his wife and other family, as well as his attendance at craft fairs to help his wife with her “pet bed business.” (AR 20.) Second, after weighing Brimblecom's reported struggles with fatigue against his professed abilities to mow the lawn, use a snowblower, and drive over an hour to his hearing, the ALJ found a mild impairment as to his ability to concentrate, persist, and maintain pace. (AR 21.) Third, the ALJ found a mild impairment in claimant's ability to adapt and manage himself based on the claimant's testimony that while he did not prepare all of his meals because of fatigue, he performed household chores, tended to his own care, and assisted his disabled wife with her activities of daily living. (Id.)

         At the same time, the ALJ noted that “no medical source has placed any limitation on [claimant's] ability to work due to cognitive or anxiety problems.” (AR 18.) Finding that claimant's mental impairments fell short of the Paragraph B requirements -- either one functional area of severe impairment or two areas of marked ...


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