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Covington v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 29, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") finding Plaintiff Jeffrey A. Covington not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 416(i), 423(d), 1381a, & 1382(a). This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, we OVERRULE Plaintiff's objections and ADOPT the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, affirming the decision of the Commissioner.

Factual and Procedural Background


Plaintiff Jeffrey A. Covington is a 53-year resident of Indiana. Covington seeks Social Security benefits on the basis of a number of physical, psychiatric, and emotional impairments.

Covington reports a troubled history dating to his early childhood. He spent a portion of his early years in children's foster homes, and suffered molestation beginning at the age of five or six. Later, he spent a short time in the United States Army, but was discharged after only 10 months. While in the Army, he was hospitalized for four days at a U.S. facility in Germany after a suicide attempt. R. 30-31.[1] He reports that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his childhood abuse, and he recounts experiencing depression and suicidal ideation from an early age. Id.

Before his alleged onset date in 2011, Covington held several jobs.[2] He worked as a laborer for Gorilla Plastic and Rubber Group, a stocker at several retail outlets, and as a cook at Church's Chicken and, most recently, Long John Silver's. R&R 6.[3]

Covington suffers from physical impairments affecting his back and his vision. He traces his back pain to an accident more than ten years ago. Covington received treatment in 2010 and 2011 from Veterans Administration hospitals for back pain, and a September 2010 x-ray of his thoracic spine revealed mild degenerative disc disease, but with no "acute" bone abnormalities. R. 16 (citing R. 138). However, an examination in October 2011 revealed that he had normal gait and posture, no spinal tenderness or muscle spasms, and normal range of motion in his joints. R. 16-17. After he continued to complain of back pain on subsequent VA visits, he received a brace, which provided some relief. Id. at 17. In June 2012, he received a Tramadol prescription for back pain and lumbar tenderness. Id. (citing R. 57, 39, 49). With respect to his eyes, Covington complained at an eye examination in April 2011 that he lacked depth perception in his right field of vision when he was tired; he received a prescription for new glasses with "transitions lenses." Id. at 16. On a later eye exam, he was diagnosed with strabismus of the right eye. Id. at 17.[4]

Covington also suffers from psychological and emotional impairments. In 2008, he began receiving treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital. An examination in March 2008 resulted in a diagnosis of adjustment disorder with anxiety and major depressive affective disorder. R. 341. After later visits for treatment in 2008 and 2009, he was diagnosed with mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depressive disorder. R. 331, 340.

On July 27, 2009, Covington was hospitalized for one night, reporting that he had had suicidal thoughts and depression. R. 343-347. On his admission, his Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score was listed at 30.[5] He reported that he had had numerous suicidal thoughts in the preceding weeks and complained of auditory hallucinations. Docket No. 19 at 4. On his discharge, Covington was prescribed Seroquel, an antidepressant, to combat his depressive moods and paranoia. Id. at 5.

In December 2010, Dr. Harpriya Bhagar performed a psychiatric evaluation of Covington. R. 406-407. She confirmed the depression and PTSD diagnoses, and noted the presence of borderline personality traits. She continued his Seroquel prescription as well as his prescriptions for two other PTSD and anxiety medications. Id. Dr. Bhagar also referred him to a social worker, Richard Bower, for the provision of continuing care. Id.

In 2011 and 2012, Covington continued to receive VA medical treatment, and he participated in outpatient therapy and life skills counseling programs. See R. 297-410. At these sessions, he often reported progress and good moods; he did not report suicidal ideation during this period. R. 349-350, 358, 387-388, 395, 406. In October 2011, Dr. Herbert Henry performed a mental status examination on Covington. R. 456-462. Although Covington reported his history of PTSD, depression, and suicide attempts, Dr. Henry found him to demonstrate full orientation, normal affect, clear speech, adequate judgment, and good memory. R. 459-461. Henry assessed Covington with a GAF score of 63. R. 462.[6]

State reviewing consultant Joseph Pressner completed a psychiatric assessment of Covington in November 2011. He opined that Covington had mild restrictions of activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and no episodes of decompensation of extended duration.[7] R. 473. With regard to Covington's capacity to engage in work, he opined that Covington retained the ability to perform simple, unskilled tasks in a work setting that did not involve intense interactions with others. R. 479. This assessment was later echoed by another agency reviewing consultant in January 2012. R. 531.

Covington's own treating physician and social worker, Dr. Harpriya Bhagar and Richard Bower, respectively, also completed functional evaluation and mental residual functional capacity questionnaires in June 2012. Dr. Bhagar opined that Covington was "not likely to sustain or maintain any substantial employment." R. 534. Bower reported that Covington had marked limitations with social interaction, adaptation, sustained concentration and persistence, and making simple work-related decisions. R. 535-536; Docket No. 19 at 6.

Procedural History

This is Covington's second application for Social Security benefits. He filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in December 2008; his applications were denied initially, upon reconsideration, and finally by an ALJ on May 23, 2011. Docket No. 26 at 2 n.1. Covington filed a civil suit, and this Court affirmed the Commissioner's ...

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