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Jones v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

February 19, 2014

BRENDA D. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant

For Brenda D Jones, Plaintiff: Joseph W Shull, Fort Wayne, IN.

For Commissioner of Social Security, sued as Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Deborah M Leonard, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office - FW/IN, Fort Wayne, IN; Javitt Adili, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration - Chi/IL, Office of Regional Counsel, Chicago, IL.

OPINION

Page 875

OPINION AND ORDER

PHILIP P. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Brenda D. Jones appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her application for Supplemental Security Income. An Administrative Law Judge found that Jones was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. As explained below, I find that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinion of Jones' treating psychiatrist with respect to the severity of her mental impairments, and I will REMAND the matter back to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this opinion

Background

Jones, who is now 47 years old, has no shortage of physical and mental impairments. She has aortic sclerosis, kidney stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and hypertension [DE 8 at 26-27]. She suffers from migraines and occipital neuralgia, and has struggled with dependency on marijuana and prescription medication [ Id.]. But what's important for our purposes is that Jones has been diagnosed as having a bipolar subtype of schizoaffective disorder [DE 8 at 27, 644]. Schizoaffective disorder combines features of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder [DE 8 at 695]. In Jones' case, this means auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and periods of depression alternating with wild mood swings and explosions of anger [ Id.].

Jones filed applications for Title II social security disability benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income benefits in May 2010, but these were initially denied by the SSA [DE 8 at 24]. Jones dropped her claim for Title II benefits, but persisted in the claim for SSI benefits. After a hearing, an ALJ upheld the agency's denial of SSI benefits [ Id.]. The denial is now before me on review.

Unlike most social security appeals, Jones makes only one argument: the ALJ

Page 876

erred by failing to credit the opinion of one of her treating psychiatrists, Dr. Michael Conn, M.D., when determining Jones' residual functional capacity [DE 16 at 11-13].[1] More concretely, the ALJ disregarded Dr. Conn's opinion that Jones would miss more than three days of work a month and could only remain on-task for less than 85% of a workday [DE 8 at 696-97].

This is important because a vocational expert who testified at the hearing concluded that, try as they might, a person who missed three days of work a month would not be able to maintain a job [DE 8 at 80]. The same goes for someone who could only stay on-task for less than 90% of the workday [ Id.]. In other words, if you believe Dr. Conn, then Jones' application probably shouldn't have been denied.

The ALJ didn't believe Dr. Conn, however, and I have to determine whether he had good reasons not to. The ALJ's first reason is that Dr. Conn's statement was too general. It addressed people with schizoaffective disorder in the abstract rather than Jones specifically. In addition, the ALJ believed that Dr. Conn's opinion was undercut by medical records showing a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score of 58 because that score indicates only moderate difficulty in social or occupational ...


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