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Wysong v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 27, 2014

Stephen Owen Wysong, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff Stephen Owen Wysong seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, who denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act. For the following reasons, the Court affirms.

A. Procedural Background

In February 2010, Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging disability due to diabetes mellitus with retinopathy, prostate cancer, depression, and anxiety, with an onset date of November 4, 2009. (R. at 133-34.) His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 70-73, 75-77.) He requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 78-79.) The hearing was held before Romona Scales on September 13, 2011, in Valparaiso, Indiana. (R. at 37.) On October 13, 2011, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 6-22.) Following the Appeals Council's denial of Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's opinion became final. (R. at 1-5.)

B. Factual Background

(1) Plaintiff's Background and Testimony

Plaintiff was born in 1951. (R. at 40.) He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife of thirty-eight years. (R. at 57.) After completing high school, he finished one year of college. (R. at 41.) For fourteen years, he worked as a furniture salesman, and in that capacity, he often carried items weighing around 150 pounds, with and without assistance. (R. at 42-43.) Plaintiff identified that he often experienced anxiety and depression at work, which only worsened after doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer. (R. at 44-45.) In November and December 2009, he underwent radiation treatment, which further accentuated his anxiety and depression. (R. at 45.) In March 2010, after experiencing suicidal thoughts he began psychological treatment at Madison Center, a psychiatric hospital located in South Bend, Indiana. ( Id. ) At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that his prostate cancer was not currently in remission, but rather his PSA numbers were increasing, potentially indicative of his need to undergo further hormone therapy. (R. at 56.)

Plaintiff's daily routine involves: waking up around 9:00 a.m., eating cereal, feeling anxious, which causes him to return to bed for a few hours, waking up and watching television, falling asleep, waking up for dinner, returning to television, and then retiring to bed for the evening. (R. at 48, 55.) On average, Plaintiff sleeps about fifteen hours a day. (R. at 50.) Due to his fatigue, he described being able to help with some activities around the house-such as dishes or driving to the store for his prescriptions or a gallon of milk-but he contended he cannot complete any outside chores. (R. at 52.) Further, he explained he has difficulty focusing and remembering. (R. at 50.) A few hours after watching television, he is able to recall parts ("maybe two thirds") of what happened during the show, but the next day he hardly remembers anything about the program. (R. at 51.)

Concerning his physical capabilities, Plaintiff testified that occasionally he could lift about twenty pounds. (R. at 45.) He expressed no issues with sitting for extended periods of time but claimed he could only stand comfortably for about fifteen minutes due to his fatigue. (R. at 46.) He does not regularly walk but could likely walk around the block. ( Id. ) Plaintiff has no problem using his hands or reaching his arms out in front of him; however, his balance causes him to struggle when reaching overhead. (R. at 48-49.)

He also suffers from severe vision problems. (R. at 49.) As of the hearing date, Plaintiff had undergone six laser surgeries-the most recent surgery took place one-and-one-half years earlier-and on two prior occasions, doctors had removed fluid from his right eye. ( Id. ) He expressed concern with his eyesight if he returned to work as a salesman because his vision would make it difficult to input inventory numbers into a computer. (R. at 50.)

Further, Plaintiff has suffered from diabetes for thirty-four years but testified that "for the most part" it was under control. (R. at 47-48.) He described that a few times a week his blood sugars are too high or too low. (R. at 47.) As an illustration, he explained that he checks his blood sugar roughly seven to eight times a day, and about two or three of those times his blood sugar is low. ( Id. )

Plaintiff also struggles to deal with groups of people for longer than ten minutes, and as a result experiences anxiety, causing him to breathe heavier and have lapses in memory. (R. at 52-53.) Plaintiff described that he has a difficult time when his grandkids visit because the social environment becomes too stressful. (R. at 176.) At the hearing, he explained that he felt as though he was "getting boxed in" and stated that he wanted "to get out of [t]here." (R. at 53.)

(2) Testimony of Plaintiff's Wife

Plaintiff's wife, Deborah Wysong, also testified at the hearing. (R. at 57-63.) Ms. Wysong explained that, before his treatment for prostate cancer, he was an outgoing salesman but that the radiation appeared to make him depressed and inactive. (R. at 57.) As a result, he sought treatment from Madison Center, which helped to make it so he was not feeling suicidal. (R. at 58.) However, ever since his prostate cancer, she testified that he "sleeps a lot" and contended that his fatigue, depression, and daily radiation treatments caused him to stop work. (R. at 61-62.) They used to go out to dinner or meet with friends often, but according to Ms. Wysong, Plaintiff now acts more isolated. (R. at 59.)

Ms. Wysong further confirmed Plaintiff's difficulty in remembering. ( Id. ) For example, he would not recall what he watched on television, or if she simply asked him to complete a number of tasks he would forget. (R. at 60-61.) However, if she wrote down a list of things for him to do, then he would remember and complete the chores. (R. at 60.) Ms. Wysong further claimed that his memory initially contributed to his struggle in taking his medication. ( Id. )

(2) Medical Evidence

Plaintiff claimed that his severe, medically determinable impairments include: diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, prostate cancer, depression, and anxiety. (R. 133-34, 155.)

Concerning his diabetes, at the request of Dr. Stanish-Plaintiff's primary-care physician-he visited Dr. Gardine, an endocrinologist, who in September and December 2008 noted Plaintiff had nephropathy and retinopathy. (R. at 266, 277.) Dr. Gardine explained that Plaintiff struggled to control his blood sugars, as he described Plaintiff as "correcting lows frequently, and then chasing highs." (R. at 266.) However subsequent visits seemed to illustrate marked improvement in Plaintiff's control of his diabetes and showed he was without retinopathy or nephropathy. (R. at 250, 257.) On August 24, 2010, Dr. Gardine noted that his diabetes was improving. (R. at 426.)

Plaintiff also saw an ophthalmologist, Dr. Thomas Hauch, regarding his diabetic retinopathy. (R. at 221.) In February 2008, he had developed proliferative diabetic retinopathy with bleeding in the right eye. ( Id. ) As a result, on multiple occasions, Dr. Hauch photocoagulated his eye and on one occasion vitrectomized it after it failed to show signs of improvement. (R. at 221, 224, 227.) At subsequent appointments, from October 2008 to July 2009, Dr. Hauch reported that Plaintiff's right eye was "stable." (R. at 233-37.) However, in August 2009, Dr. Hauch photocoagulated Plaintiff's left eye after his examination revealed a vitreous hemorrhage. (R. at 238.) His proliferative disease was stable in his right eye, as of January 2010, but he had developed a cataract. (R. at 242.) In June 2010, Plaintiff experienced bleeding in his left eye, which Dr. Hauch addressed with further photocoagulation, and later that month, Plaintiff underwent cataract surgery on his right eye, performed by Dr. ...

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