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Sneed v. Colvin

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

December 23, 2014

JEFFERY L. SNEED, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ROGER B. COSBEY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jeffery Sneed appeals to the district court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application under the Social Security Act (the "Act") for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").[1] ( See Docket # 1.) For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.


Sneed applied for DIB and SSI on or about October 12, 2010, alleging disability as of May 24, 2005. (Tr. 16.) He was last insured for DIB on March 31, 2008. (Tr. 16, 156); see Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1154 (7th Cir. 1997) (explaining that a claimant must establish that he was disabled as of his date last insured in order to recover DIB benefits).

The Commissioner denied Sneed's application initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 82-102, 105-10.) After a timely request, a hearing was held on April 10, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Yvonne Stam, at which Sneed, who was represented by counsel; his girlfriend; and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 37-73.) On July 13, 2012, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Sneed, concluding that he was not disabled because he could perform a significant number of jobs in the economy despite the limitations caused by his impairments. (Tr. 16-30.) The Appeals Council denied his request for review, at which point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-12, 270-71.)

In her decision, the ALJ observed that Sneed had previously applied for DIB and SSI in January 2009, and that these applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 16, 74-77.) She found that because Sneed alleged an onset date during a period that had already been adjudicated, a request to reopen the prior applications was implied. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ concluded, however, that Sneed had not submitted new or material evidence to support reopening, and therefore, his 2009 applications would not be reopened. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ further stated that because Sneed's DIB date last insured fell within the period already adjudicated, he could not be found disabled for purposes of DIB, see Stevenson, 105 F.3d at 1154, and the earliest potential disability onset date for SSI would be his current application date of October 12, 2010. (Tr. 18.)

Sneed filed a complaint with this Court on October 16, 2013, seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision. (Docket # 1.) In this appeal, Sneed asserts just one argumentthat the ALJ improperly evaluated a mental impairment questionnaire written by his treating nurse practitioner, Karen Lothamer. (Opening Br. of Pl. in Social Security Appeal Pursuant to L.R. 7.3 ("Opening Br.") 12-15.) Because Sneed does not challenge the ALJ's denial of his DIB claim on the procedural basis explained above, he has waived any challenge with respect to DIB, and therefore, only his SSI claim remains. See generally Swanson v. Apfel, No. IP 99-1159-C H/G, 2000 WL 1206587, at *4 (S.D. Ind. Aug. 7, 2000) (acknowledging that a claimant waives an argument by failing to raise it in his opening brief).


A. Background

At the time of the ALJ's decision, Sneed was forty-three years old (Tr. 74); had a high school education and two years of college (Tr. 188); and had work experience as a packager, sander, and fry cook (Tr. 28, 269). He alleges that he became disabled due to degenerative disc disease, diabetic neuropathy, asthma, and major depressive disorder. (Opening Br. 2.) Sneed does not dispute the ALJ's findings on his physical impairments (Opening Br. 2 n.1); therefore, the Court will focus on the evidence pertaining to his mental limitations.

B. Sneed's Testimony at the Hearing

At the hearing, Sneed testified that he currently lives alone in an apartment. (Tr. 40.) His daily routine includes taking his medications and checking his blood sugar, napping, walking around the block for exercise, watching television, and preparing light meals (Tr. 45-48); sometimes he has difficulty sleeping at night (Tr. 52-53). He took college classes in 2010 and 2011, attending eight hours a day, four days a week (Tr. 60); eventually, however, Sneed started missing classes and then dropped out, citing back problems and medication side effects of sleepiness, and if he took the medications too closely together, sweating and dizziness. (Tr. 44-45, 58-60.) Sneed also stopped driving due to these medication side effects. (Tr. 44-45.)

As to his mental impairments, Sneed said that he always has had difficulty getting along with coworkers and supervisors and has a "short-fuse temper." (Tr. 54-57.) He does not like to be around people. (Tr. 61-62, 64.) He also said that his mental problems caused him to be late for work.[3] (Tr. 56.)

C. Summary of the Relevant Medical Evidence

In June 2008, Sneed was sent to Park Center by the Allen County Probation Department after a positive test for marijuana. (Tr. 479-83.) He was diagnosed with cannabis dependence and assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 58.[4] (Tr. 481.) He then participated in approximately 23 substance abuse group therapy sessions. (Tr. 434-78, 485-535, 540-77.) At these appointments, "current status" checks-which included appearance, level of consciousness, mood, speech, attitude, behavior, psychotic symptoms, thought content/thought process, hallucinations, activity level, orientation, and dangerousness-were all normal. (Tr. 434-78, 485-535, 540-77.)

In February 2009, Candace Martin, Psy.D., conducted a mental status examination of Sneed at the request of Social Security. (Tr. 293-97.) She noted that he was homeless, had been incarcerated, and had an extensive history of polysubstance abuse. (Tr. 296.) Upon examination, Sneed was well oriented and showed no evidence of a thought disorder; his mood appeared normal to the situation with notable discouragement. (Tr. 294-95.) His judgment, insight, attention, concentration, and long-term and intermediate memory were all adequate; but his fund of general information, short-term memory, and mentation were weak, and his abstract reasoning poor. (Tr. 295-96.) Dr. Martin wrote that Sneed's examination suggested that, despite his education, he was functioning in the borderline to mildly-mentally handicapped range of intelligence. (Tr. 296.) She assigned him a GAF of 35 and diagnosed him with anxiety disorder due to asthma; trichotillomania;[5] adjustment disorder with anxiety; polysubstance abuse, in remission; and probable borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 296-97.) She concluded that he could likely "perform simple, routine, and repetitive work that provides for his physical limitations." (Tr. 296.)

In December 2010, Ryan Oetting, Ph.D., completed a mental status examination of Sneed at the request of Social Security. (Tr. 390-92.) Sneed had no psychiatric treatment history except for attending narcotics anonymous while in prison. (Tr. 390.) He presented with a neutral affect and a somewhat depressed, irritated mood; his thought processes appeared logical and sequential, and his psychomotor activity normal. (Tr. 390.) He denied experiencing hallucinations or suicidal or homicidal ideation. (Tr. 392.) Sneed reported excessive worrying, feeling depressed every day and "worthless all the time, " and irritability and poor concentration. (Tr. 392.) Dr. Oetting assigned a GAF of 53 and diagnosed Sneed with depressive disorder, not otherwise specified ("NOS"); anxiety disorder NOS; and rule out borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 392.)

In January 2011, Stacia Hill, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist, reviewed Sneed's record and completed a psychiatric review technique and mental residual functional capacity (" RFC") assessment forms. (Tr. 400-415.) On the psychiatric review technique, Dr. Hill concluded that Sneed had mild difficulties in activities of daily living and maintaining social functioning, but moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. (Tr. 410.) On the mental RFC assessment, Dr. Hill indicated that Sneed was moderately limited in his ability to carry out detailed instructions, interact appropriately with the general public, and respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; he was not significantly limited in the remaining seventeen mental activities. (Tr. 413-14.) In her narrative summary, Dr. Hill wrote that Sneed's daily activities appeared limited primarily by his physical conditions and that his attention and concentration were moderately impacted, but still reasonable for semiskilled tasks. (Tr. 415.) She stated, in sum:

The evidence suggests that claimant can understand, remember, and carry out semiskilled tasks. The claimant can relate on at least a superficial basis on an ongoing basis with co-workers and supervisors. The claimant can attend to tasks for a sufficient period of time to complete ...

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