United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
WILLIAM A. HIATT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.
Plaintiff William Allen Hiatt ("Mr. Hiatt") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administrator ("the Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS in part and REMANDS in part the Commissioner's decision.
A. Procedural History
Mr. Hiatt filed his applications for DIB and SSI on February 19, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of December 4, 2007. These claims were initially denied on May 22, 2009, and upon reconsideration on July 13, 2009. Thereafter, Mr. Hiatt requested a hearing on July 22, 2009, and on April 19, 2010, a video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Gregory M. Hamel ("the ALJ"). On September 16, 2010, the ALJ denied Mr. Hiatt's applications, and on October 14, 2011, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's denial, thus making it the final decision of the Commissioner for the purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R § 416.1481. On February 22, 2013, Mr. Hiatt filed this appeal requesting judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
B. Factual and Medical Background
Mr. Hiatt was forty-six years old at the time of his hearing and suffered from several physical impairments related to his spine including cervical disc protrusion, spondylosis, and spinal stenosis. Mr. Hiatt has passed the eleventh grade, but never graduated from high school. He has a good work record and previously worked as a semi-truck driver and a furniture mover.
In December 2007, while working as a commercial driver, Mr. Hiatt was hit in the side of his head with the door of his semi-truck. He immediately began to experience dizziness and a headache, but was able to drive himself to the hospital. At the hospital has was administered a computerized tomography scan (a "CT scan") that reported normal conditions. After being dismissed from the hospital, however, Mr. Hiatt continued to experience dizziness, vomiting, and reported "passing out" "at least every day" and "sometimes two or three times a day."
Starting in February 2008, Mr. Hiatt began to see a myriad of specialists concerning dizziness related to the accident. Throughout these visits many of the doctors confirmed Mr. Hiatt's subjective experience of dizziness and "syncopal episodes, " or fainting. In fact, Dr. Vincent Ostrowski, physical therapist Sharon Drehs, Dr. Michael Coscia, Dr. Kristi George ("Dr. George"), Dr. Duan Pierce ("Dr. Pierce"), Dr. Fernando R. Montoya, Dr. Guy F. Perry ("Dr. Perry"), and Dr. Robert Gregori ("Dr. Gregori") all reported finding symptoms of dizziness or vertigo. These diagnoses were based mostly on subjective self-reporting on the part of Mr. Hiatt. One doctor, Dr. Pierce, also found that Mr. Hiatt experienced ataxia causing severe dizziness when he was asked to look to the far left or the far right. Based on these diagnoses, several experts recommended that Mr. Hiatt should not continue driving or working at heights or with machinery.
While most of the medical experts that examined Mr. Hiatt found symptoms of dizziness, the cause and severity of these symptoms is unclear. Mr. Hiatt has undergone several CT scans all of which returned normal results with no signs of physical impairments. He has also had electroencephalogram (EEG), electrocardiogram (EKG), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests performed which also reported normal results. Dr. George concluded that the dizziness Mr. Hiatt experienced had no clear basis and appeared to be "nonphysiologic." He diagnosed these symptoms as "conversion reactions." Dr. Perry also concluded that there was not a physiologic basis for these symptoms. Both Dr. George and Dr. Gregori concluded that Mr. Hiatt demonstrated symptom magnification.
In addition, Dr. Gregori stated that Mr. Hiatt had elements of depression that warranted further evaluation and treatment. Dr. Hill found that Mr. Hiatt had medically determinable depression, but found that the depression was not significantly limiting. Dr. Pressner later reviewed and affirmed Dr. Hill's assessment.
C. The ALJ's Decision
The ALJ made the following findings as part of his decision. At step one, the ALJ determined that Mr. Hiatt has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 4, 2007. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Hiatt has the following severe impairments: post-concussive syndrome and encephalopathy and disequilibrium, cervical protrusion, spondylosis, and spinal stenosis. The ALJ found that Mr. Hiatt's hearing loss did not cause more than a minimal degree of limitation. At step three, the ALJ found that Mr. Hiatt does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ concluded that Mr. Hiatt has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he cannot drive or work in hazardous work environments, including working around moving machinery and at heights. At step four, the ALJ ...