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Motley v. Colvin

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

September 26, 2016

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


          JON E. DEGUILIO Judge

         On June 8, 2015, Plaintiff Richard W. Motley (“Motley”), by counsel, filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the final decision of the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) [DE 1]. Motley filed his brief in support [DE 17, as amended, DE 18, DE 19], to which the Commissioner responded [DE 24], and Motley replied [DE 27]. The matter is now ripe for ruling, and for the reasons stated below, the Court remands this case to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         I. FACTS

         A. Procedural History

         On March 1, 2012, Motley applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”), [1] alleging a disability onset date of May 30, 2010. Motley cited lower lumber fusion, degenerative disc disease, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, mini strokes, and depression as his disabling conditions. Motley's applications were denied initially in June 2012, and on reconsideration in December 2012. On October 1, 2013, Administrative Law Judge William Pierson (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which Motley and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified.

         On December 19, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The ALJ determined that Motley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2010, and suffered from the following severe impairments: residuals of a remote lumbar fusion, coronary artery disease, major depression-depressive disorder, and alcohol dependence. After finding that Motley did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the ALJ reasoned that Motley had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] to perform light work involving only simple, routine, and repetitive tasks in a low stress environment with only occasional environmental changes, limited by occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling, balancing, and squatting, occasional use of ramps and stairs, no climbing or ascending/descending on ropes, ladders, and scaffolds, and no more than occasional exposure to concentrated amounts of fumes, dust, gasses, or temperature extremes.

         Given this RFC, the ALJ opined that Motley was unable to perform his past relevant work as a tractor-trailer truck driver because the physical demands exceeded Motley's RFC. The VE testified that based strictly on the VE's review of Motley's vocational background and the hypothetical posed to her (offering the above recited RFC), Motley could perform work as a “repack room worker, ” “stock checker, ” and “office helper.” The ALJ agreed with Motley's counsel that providing a hypothetical premised on sedentary work (as opposed to light work) would have caused Motley to be deemed disabled under the grid rules, on account of his age, high school education, prior work experience, and lack of transferable skills. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 2.[3] However, since the ALJ ultimately relied on an RFC involving light work, the ALJ ruled that Motley was not disabled given his ability to perform other work in the economy.

         On March 6, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, making the decision the final determination of the Commissioner. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). Motley seeks review of the Commissioner's decision thereby invoking this Court's jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         B. Relevant Background

         Motley has been battling depression for approximately twenty years. In May 2008, Motley had a lumbar fusion due to degenerative disc disease and stenosis at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. Motley also suffers from coronary artery disease and had cardiac stent placements performed in April 2010 and June 2012.

         Motley testified that he was terminated in mid-2011 as a tractor-trailer truck driver because he started self-medicating by abusing alcohol in order to mask his depression, back pain, and heart problems. After losing his job, his depression escalated and his drinking spiraled out of control. Motley only stopped drinking on February 20, 2012, after being admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with major depression, suicidal thoughts and ideation, alcohol dependence, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and possible seizure disorder. Upon Motley's admittance, it was documented that Motley was unemployed, and that despite his efforts, he was unable to receive regular medical care because he had no insurance or other financial means.

         After his discharge from the hospital, Motley was provided therapy and psychiatric services through November 2012, during which time records reflect that he continued to suffer from major depressive disorder (recurrent, severe), alcohol dependence (in remission), and was consistently assigned Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) scores of 48 or below.[4]Despite his ongoing and severe depression, Motley was terminated from outpatient therapy in November 2012, because he violated the “no show” policy. The discharge records indicated that Motley needed assistance (or reminders) with attending his medical appointments. Motley testified that he quit going to his psychiatric therapy because he could not afford to pay the bills. Without his treatment and medication, Motley stated that his depression became worse.

         By early 2013, Motley testified that his back pain had returned to being constant, but he did not seek further treatment because he did not have health insurance. By late 2013, his chest angina was controlled with medications after his second stent placement.[5] Motley testified that he thought he had the ability to walk about ¼ mile, sit for no more than an hour due to back pain, and perform household chores with breaks. His need for breaks while slowly performing activities of daily living is corroborated by consultative examinations. R. at 470-74, 476-79, 619- 22. Motley did not think he could perform work that required him to stand or sit six hours in a day, but he believed that his health would be better if he could get medical treatment. The record is replete with other references to Motley's having no job and no insurance, and with his being frustrated for not being able to access health care. See, e.g., R. at 476-79, 566, 595-96, 619-22, 816.


         In reviewing the decision, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could differ” about the disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         In this substantial evidence determination, the Court considers the entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that is contrary to his findings. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, while the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 ...

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