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Keenan v. Colvin

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

September 12, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         On October 23, 2014, Plaintiff Christopher J. Keenan (“Keenan”) filed his complaint in this Court seeking remand of the Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”), final decision denying his application for Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). On May 22, 2015, Keenan filed an opening brief in support of his Social Security appeal. On August 18, 2015, the Commissioner filed a response requesting that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision. On September 28, 2015, Keenan filed a reply brief. This Court may enter a ruling in this matter based on the parties consent, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedure

         On May 31, 2013, Keenan filed an application for SSI and DIB with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) alleging disability beginning August 5, 2012. Keenan's application was denied initially on August 29, 2013, and then again on October 17, 2013. On March 6, 2014, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) where Keenan, an impartial vocational expert, and Kennan's father, Michael Keenan, appeared and testified. On May 28, 2014, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Kennan was not disabled at Step Five of the evaluation and denied his application for DIB and SSI. On August 22, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Keenan's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Through this action, Keenan seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Relevant Background

         Keenan was born on July 7, 1980, making him 32 years old on the date of his SSI and DIB applications, and has limited education-the extent of which Keenan has reported inconsistently. At the time of the March 2014 hearing, Keenan was unemployed. Prior to the alleged onset date, Keenan worked as a short order cook and general foundry worker.

         A. Hearing Testimony and Medical Evidence

         Keenan has allegedly suffered his entire life from both physical and chronic, ongoing, and significant mental illness. Physically, Keenan testified that he has dealt with liver problems, pancreatitis, kidney problems, hepatitis C, peptic ulcer disease, rapid heartbeat, thyroid issues, and hypertension. Since the alleged onset date in August 2012, Keenan was hospitalized for overnight treatment of renal insufficiency from August 31, 2012, until September 1, 2012. At follow up visits with Dr. Wiersema, a gastroenterologist, Keenan complained of generalized pain, muscle aches, and other abdominal issues. Keenan raised similar concerns during visits from September 2012 through December 2013 with Nurse Practitioner McKinley in the office of his primary care physician. Examinations revealed nothing conclusive to explain Keenan's asserted physical or psychiatric symptoms. Despite recommendations from Dr. Wiersema, Keenan declined further testing due to the cost involved.

         Keenan's medical records show that Keenan's physical conditions generally subsided with time or treatment. In addition, medical records from visits to various doctors, including psychiatrists, reveal that Keenan reported his physical symptoms inconsistently. Sometimes he claimed to suffer symptoms while other times he claimed no symptoms. Nevertheless, Keenan testified at the hearing before the ALJ “that he becomes short of breath when walking, that being around heat was problematic when he was working as a cook, and that he is limited to lifting five to ten pounds.” Doc. No. 10 at 23. Keenan also “reported difficulties with dropping things, ” using an inhaler every four hours or so, and becoming “extremely winded” climbing stairs. Id. Notably, Keenan's medical records include no prescription for an inhaler. Keenan's father also testified at the hearing that Keenan “always had physical limits, ” and that his work in the kitchen resulted in dehydration and breathing problems. Id.

         Keenan's medical records also show that he had a history of significant substance abuse resulting in several instances of inpatient treatment before the alleged onset date. Evidence demonstrates that Keenan has not used alcohol or illegal substances since the alleged onset date.

         Keenan was also treated for mental health issues during the alleged disability period. At the hearing, Keenan testified that hallucinations have been a problem all his life and that his first diagnosis of paranoia and delusions came in first grade. He further stated that he experiences mood changes with more frequent lows that lead him to isolate himself. In addition, Keenan reported panic attacks that cause breathing difficulty, increased tension, and disorientation. Keenan acknowledged that his symptoms are lessened by medication but that some symptoms remain. He also reported a total breakdown requiring inpatient treatment beginning in May 2013 and stated that he had also required inpatient treatment multiple other times during his life.

         During the disability period at issue with Keenan's instant application for benefits, he only required inpatient mental health treatment once from May 18, 2013, through June 7, 2013, due to paranoia, psychosis, and suicidal ideation. Of note, Keenan's only physical care during his inpatient treatment was for an acute upper respiratory infection. After being released from inpatient treatment, Keenan initiated ongoing outpatient psychiatric care at the Bowen Center on June 10, 2013, and then began treatment with psychiatrist S. Maharjan, M.D., on July 23, 2013.

         The record reflects monthly visits with Dr. Maharjan through December 17, 2013, followed by one last visit on March 11, 2014, about a week after the administrative hearing before the ALJ and about six weeks later than originally scheduled. During his monthly visits, Keenan reported improvement of his symptoms following the inpatient treatment, but continued to report hearing voices and experiencing visual hallucinations. Dr. Marharjan diagnosed Keenan with mood disorder, psychosis, history of polysubstance dependence in remission, and antisocial personality traits along with the rule out diagnoses of schizoaffective disorder and PTSD, which were treated with medications. Between his December and March visits, Keenan stopped taking his medications regularly. As a result, Keenan's symptoms returned. Dr. Maharjan encouraged Keenan to restart his medications and scheduled a follow up appointment two months later.

         As part of his disability application, Keenan also underwent consultative examinations. On July 23, 2013, Dr. Onamusi performed a consultative physical examination. Keenan reported many of his alleged physical conditions, but also indicated that he could lift 30 pounds, complete household chores and self-care, and drive. Dr. Onamusi reported that the examination was normal but for some abdominal pain, identified no physical restrictions on Keenan's ability to work, and opined that Keenan was capable of gainful employment.

         The record includes a consultative psychological examination from November 20, 2012, that was conducted as part of a previous application. As relevant here, Keenan reported to the examiner that he spent time with his son, took him to school of Mondays, watched television and checked Facebook on a regular basis.

         In late July 2013, Michael Scherbinski, Ph.D. conducted another consultative psychological examination of Keenan. Keenan presented to Dr. Scherbinski similarly reporting that he was independent with self-care. However, Keenan also reported conflicting information such as that he could not drive and that he had only two daughters. Dr. Scherbinski opined that “[t]aken together, [Keenan's] abilities would likely allow him to potentially gain and/or maintain employment[, but that given his mental health history, his ability to consistently meet demands in a work environment may be impacted at times, particularly when non-compliant in taking his prescribed medications.” Doc. No. 10 at 727.

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         After the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision reflecting the following findings based on the five-step disability evaluation prescribed by the SSA's regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.[1] At Step One, the ALJ found that Keenan has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of August 5, 2012. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Keenan has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, mood disorder, major depression, psychosis, social phobia, and antisocial personality traits. At Step Three, the ALJ found that Keenan 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 then determined that Keenan retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but is limited to no detailed or complex job instructions; no fast-paced work or work requiring a regimented pace of production; only casual, superficial, or brief interactions with others, including supervisors, coworkers, and the general public; no exposure to intense/critical supervision; and is best suited to work alone, in semi-isolation from others, or as part of a small group.

         After determining Keenan's RFC, the ALJ moved to Step Four and found that Keenan is unable to perform any past relevant work. At Step Five, the ALJ found that considering Keenan's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. Based on these findings, the ALJ determined that Keenan was not disabled from August 5, 2012, the alleged onset date, through May 28, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision.

         III. ...

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