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San Francisco Judge remands Restless Leg Syndrome Zombie to Social Security

October 9, 2012

This is another Social Security case remanded by the Federal Courts because of insufficiency of administrative denial based on credibility issues. At issue here is a person, Michael Coffey, applying for disability benefits based on Restless Leg Syndrome and medications that make him like a zombie.

MICHAEL ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

No. C 11-01380 LB


2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140788
Filed – September 28, 2012

Opinion by United States Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler:

Plaintiff Michael Coffey moves for summary judgment, seeking judicial review of a final decision by Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security Administration, denying him Social Security Income disability benefits for his claimed disability of sleep apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome (“RLS”). Plaintiff’s Motion, ECF No. 20. 1 The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) rejected the diagnoses of sleep apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome as a severe impairments, and denied Social Security Income (“SSI”) disability benefits. Administrative Record (“AR”) 22.


Mr. Coffey testified that “the combination of the restless legs and the side effects of the drugs I have to take is really my dilemma” because if he does not take the drugs he is “wiped out very rapidly” but the drugs were “causing [him] a lot of side effects.” AR 53. He elaborated that the drugs dull his brain quite rapidly and to the point where he feels like a “zombie, more or less” and that he cannot even read a book. AR 53. He has also developed a sensitivity to the drugs he is taking, Requip and Neurontin, that requires him to take the drugs in small doses over time to avoid seizure-like effects. Id. He takes both of the drugs in the evening when he is starting to prepare for sleep because once he takes them he is “no longer capable of doing anything useful.” AR 54.


The ALJ first reviewed Mr. Coffey’s allegations of disability at the hearing. The ALJ looked to Mr. Coffey’s testimony at the hearing regarding his disability where Mr. Coffey focused on “the combination of the restless legs and the side effects of the drugs” he has to take. AR 24. Mr. Coffey explained at the hearing that, as it related to the Restless Leg Syndrome, “if I don’t take the drugs I really am wiped out very rapidly in a matter of a day or two . . . but the drugs are really now causing me side effects . . . they really dull my brain quite rapidly. . . so when I start taking them I am really useless for doing anything” . . . “I really become a zombie, more or less.” AR 24. At the hearing, Mr. Coffey testified that, as to his sleep apnea, he had a dental appliance now that helps.

The ALJ found that the medical evidence in the record established that Mr. Coffey’s “testimony regarding his symptoms is not entirely credible.” Id. In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ considered “the absence of clinical signs in the medical record that would support the alleged severity of the claimant’s sleep problems; the claimant’s inconsistent work history and earnings record even prior to the alleged onset of the disability — Mr. Coffey’s earnings record suggests he withdrew himself from the competitive labor market in 2001, the last year he had significant earnings . . .indicating that the claimant has limited motivation to work.” AR 24. The ALJ also found that Mr. Coffey’s credibility was impacted by what the ALJ described as “the rather extreme fashion” in which Mr. Coffey had described his symptoms at the hearing. Id.


At his disability hearing, Mr. Coffey’s basic allegations were that (1) he suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome more than sleep apnea, and that the syndrome prevented him from being able to fall or stay asleep, and (2) when he took the medication to treat his RLS he experienced side effects. The overall effect of the situation was that he suffered from extreme fatigue and felt like “a zombie.” AR 23-24, 52, 57. The ALJ discounted Mr. Coffey’s allegations of disabling symptoms and found that Mr. Coffey appeared to have limited motivation to seek work. AR 20, 23-24, 26.


In contrast to the substantial evidence in the record supporting Mr. Coffey’s credibility, the ALJ did not provide specific and sufficient reasons for discounting Mr. Coffey’s allegations.


The court GRANTS IN PART Mr. Coffey’s motion for summary judgment and DENIES the Commissioner’s cross-motion for summary judgement. The court REMANDS this case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings to determine Mr. Coffey’s residual functional capacity and whether there are jobs in the national economy that Mr. Coffey can do.

The court reiterates, however, that objective medical evidence supports the conclusion that Mr. Coffey suffers from RLS and treatment of it that are disabling, and the court specifically finds that Dr. Duckham’s report is not contradicted by the other medical evidence and is supported by Dr. Gable’s evaluation. The record thus far supports an award of benefits, but because the ALJ did not address the last steps of residual functional capacity and jobs in the national economy, the court remands for that consideration.

This opinion three times quotes the same “zombie” quote from the Administrative Record. Magistrate Judge Beeler (or her clerk) must have really enjoyed the word as a descriptor for this case. I presume plaintiff’s counsel, the Law Office of Tom Weathered, also had some role in emphasizing the word, but having not seen the briefs, I will attribute this “zombie” to the Judge:

zombie magistrate judge laurel beeler

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