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Gilliam v. Astrue

March 19, 2008

JACKIE D. GILLIAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is an action for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of defendant Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons provided herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment [doc. 14] will be granted, and plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings [doc. 11] will be denied. The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for benefits in June 2004, alleging a disability onset date of June 30, 2003. [Tr. 44]. He is purportedly disabled by residual problems with learning, vision, hearing, motor skills, and short-term memory secondary to a 2001 traumatic brain injury. [Tr. 191, 209, 237].

The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in January 2006.

On April 26, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. He found that plaintiff suffers from a seizure disorder, which is a "severe" impairment but unequal to any impairment listed by the Commissioner. [Tr. 17-18]. Of particular relevance to the present appeal, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff does not suffer from any significant mental impairment. [Tr. 19-21]. He concluded that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to work at all levels of exertion, "except for work which requires climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds and work that involves exposure to machinery or heights[.]" [Tr. 22]. Applying Grid Rule 204.00, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled and thus ineligible for benefits. [Tr. 22].

Plaintiff then sought review from the Commissioner's Appeals Council. Review was denied on May 31, 2007. [Tr. 4]. The ALJ's ruling therefore became the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Through his timely complaint, plaintiff has properly brought his case before this court for review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. Background

Plaintiff was born in 1951 and has a twelfth grade education. [Tr. 44, 681].

His past relevant work is as a firefighter. [Tr. 201]. After his 2001 fall, plaintiff returned to work in late 2001 until his June 30, 2003 retirement. [Tr. 682]. During this time, he allegedly exhibited a significant amount of confusion which rendered him unable to effectively do his job. [Tr. 682-84].

On September 3, 2004, plaintiff told the Commissioner that he cannot perform most household chores independently due to his fear of falling. [Tr. 240]. However, two weeks later he told a consulting source that he lives alone and does all his own household chores other than lawnmowing. [Tr. 333, 335].

Plaintiff is also purportedly unable to cook due to safety concerns caused by memory problems. [Tr. 239]. He is, however, able to smoke a pipe twice per day without apparent safety concern. [Tr. 276, 359]. Plaintiff consumes between nine to fourteen beers per week. [Tr. 238, 333, 359].

Also in September 2004, plaintiff told the Commissioner that he does not perform housework because, "I choose not to risk my safety." [Tr. 240]. In the preceding twelve months, however, he put 21,000 miles on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. [Tr. 333]. Plaintiff travels unaccompanied on the motorcycle "a great deal." [Tr. 335]. He is also able to frequently visit friends, eat at ...


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