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Oneal v. Colvin

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

March 20, 2015

THOMAS E. ONEAL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



Plaintiff Thomas E. Oneal ("Mr. Oneal") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act").[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.


A. Procedural History

On May 13, 2011, Mr. Oneal filed an application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2009. The claim initially was denied on July 5, 2011, and again on reconsideration on October 17, 2011. Mr. Oneal filed a written request for a hearing. On September 11, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Julia D. Gibbs (the "ALJ"). Mr. Oneal participated in the hearing and was represented by an attorney. On October 19, 2012, the ALJ denied Mr. Oneal's application for DIB. On December 4, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Oneal's request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. On February 4, 2014, Mr. Oneal filed this action for judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g).

B. Factual Background

At the time of his alleged disability onset Mr. Oneal was 33-years old and at the time of the ALJ's decision he was 36-years old. Mr. Oneal attended school until eighth grade, spending much of his time in special education classes. In 1993, he completed his GED. Although Mr. Oneal later took night classes to become a mechanic, he never completed the program. He is married and has two sons, ages eleven and twelve. Mr. Oneal has worked a variety of jobs in the past twenty years, including cook, pizza delivery driver, fast food employee, construction laborer, and, most recently, a shipper for a floral company. He has not worked since February 2009. Mr. Oneal was laid off from the floral company at that time. Mr. Oneal alleges that his medical challenges have prevented him from working since 2009. However, he did not receive any medical or psychiatric care between 2009 and 2011 because he did not have Medicaid until 2011. Mr. Oneal was treated for lower back pain in June 2012.

Mr. Oneal's childhood was filled with medical and emotional challenges. He has been blind in his left eye since he injured it at the age of two. He was born with a congenital heart defect, Ebstein's anomaly, for which he has undergone five surgeries, most recently in 1993. His father died when Mr. Oneal was five, and his mother died when he was seventeen. Mr. Oneal lived in several foster homes during his childhood. When he was ten years old, Mr. Oneal was sexually molested by a neighborhood boy. He consumed alcohol during his teenage years and was twice convicted of theft, once as a juvenile and once as an adult.

In addition to his heart problems and blindness in the left eye, Mr. Oneal also suffers from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, defiance disorder, and a learning disability. Mr. Oneal's partial blindness results in impaired peripheral vision and depth perception. His heart condition can result in shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain, especially when Mr. Oneal physically exerts himself. For example, he testified that he was only able to mow the yard for ten or fifteen minutes before taking a break. Mr. Oneal's learning disability made it difficult for him to read while in school. As part of his daily activities, Mr. Oneal helps his children with their homework, engages in household cleaning and yard work, performs household repairs, cleans his barn, gardens, does mechanic work, watches television, and plays video games.

After Mr. Oneal filed his application for DIB, a medical examination was conducted. Dr. Elizabeth Brater ("Dr. Brater"), conducted the medical examination and observed that Mr. Oneal can stand for approximately four hours in an eight hour period, can lift at least twenty pounds with either arm, and has mobility. Dr. Brater determined that Mr. Oneal had the capacity "for light work with occasional posturals with limited exposure to extreme temperatures and monocular vision." (Filing No. 13-2 at 18.) Two state agency medical consultants reviewed the record, coming to the same conclusion.

Mr. Oneal testified that his intermittent explosive disorder results in him having a very short temper. He becomes frustrated easily, and his temper quickly escalates to yelling and sometimes throwing things. Mr. Oneal has been diagnosed with defiance disorder, resulting in occasional conflicts with authority figures. He has lost jobs because of disagreements with managers. Mr. Oneal testified that his anger management issues have increased since he stopped working. He provided examples of growing angry when his lawn mower would not start or when he discovered moles and gophers in his yard. Mr. Oneal's anger has resulted in him leaving several jobs, and he believes it contributes to his difficulty in finding employment.

Mr. Oneal also experiences anxiety and stress. His anxiety disrupts his sleep and makes it difficult for him to trust people. He has a decreased appetite. Mr. Oneal cries regularly, at least every other day. In May 2011, Mr. Oneal began receiving mental health treatment from Meridian Health Services. The clinician at Meridian noted possible diagnoses of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, giving Mr. Oneal a global assessment of functioning ("GAF") score of 40, which corresponds to "major impairment in several areas, such as work or school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood." (Filing No. 13-2 at 17.) Mr. Oneal returned to Meridian for counseling many times, but the diagnoses remained the same and treatment never progressed beyond counseling.

As part of the disability claims process, Mr. Oneal underwent a psychiatric consultative evaluation with Dr. Regina McKinney ("Dr. McKinney") in June 2011. She diagnosed Mr. Oneal as suffering from major depressive disorder but with only one, mild incident. Dr. McKinney assigned Mr. Oneal a GAF score of 62, which corresponds to "some difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning ( e.g., occasional truancy, or theft within the household), but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships." (Filing No. 13-2 at ...

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