United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
JOHNNY W. PHARES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
Johnny W. Phares (“Phares”) 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, 42 U.S.C. §
423(d) (“the Act”). For the following reasons,
the Court reverses in part the final decision of the
Commissioner and remands this action for further proceedings.
January 9, 2013, Phares filed an application for DIB,
alleging a disability onset date of June 30, 2010, due to
hypertension, insomnia, depression, and a panic disorder with
agoraphobia. His claim was initially denied on February 18,
2013, and upon reconsideration on March 28, 2013. Phares
filed a written request for a hearing on May 9, 2013. On July
10, 2014, a hearing was held via telephone conference before
Administrative Law Judge Daniel J. Mages (“the
ALJ”). Phares was present and represented by Andrew S.
Youngman, a non-attorney, as well as by counsel. A vocational
expert, Ray O. Burger (“the VE”), appeared and
testified at the hearing. On August 8, 2014, the ALJ denied
Phares' application for DIB. Following this decision,
Phares requested review by the Appeals Council on September
2, 2014. On November 5, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Phares' request for review, thereby making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes
of judicial review. On December 28, 2015, Phares filed this
action for judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Filing No. 1.)
time of his alleged disability onset date, Phares was
forty-seven years old, and he was fifty-one years old at the
time of the ALJ's decision. He is a high school graduate.
Prior to the onset of his alleged disability, Phares worked
as a self-employed carpet installer. On January 30, 2010, he
stopped working after suffering a panic attack and he has not
worked since that date.
2010, an emergency room physician diagnosed Phares with
anxiety, and discharged him with a prescription for Xanax.
(Filing No. 8-8 at 5-6.) One month later, on July
13, 2010, Phares had a followed-up visit with Lonna Weaver,
and reported that Xanax worked well and prevented panic
attacks, however, once he completed the prescription he
experienced another panic attack. Id. at 77. Nurse
Weaver prescribed Zoloft, Xanax, and Ambien, which Phares
later reported helped ease his anxiety and panic disorder.
Id. at 75, 78. On October 12, 2010, Nurse Weaver
changed Phares' Zoloft prescription after he complained
of certain side effects. Id. at 73. The following
month, Phares reported to Nurse Weaver that he suffered
approximately four to five panic attacks. Thereafter, Nurse
Weaver adjusted Phares' medication and referred him to a
psychiatrist. Id. at 71-72.
February 21, 2011, Nurse Weaver increased Phares' Xanax
dosage after he complained that the medication did not
control his anxiety as well as before. Id. at 66-67.
Nurse Weaver again increased Phares' Xanax dosage on May
10, 2011, because Phares reported suffering several panic
attacks. Id. at 65. Ten days later, Phares reported
suffering insomnia, as well as panic attacks at bedtime, but
stated that he felt better than he had felt in a long time.
Id. at 62. Nurse Weaver observed that Phares
appeared less anxious than he had in the past. Id.
January 20, 2012, Phares visited his primary care provider,
Stina Wedlock, M.D., regarding his anxiety and panic
disorder. Id. at 58. Phares reported
“functioning as somewhat difficult, ” and
complained of anxious thoughts, difficulty sleeping,
excessive worry, racing thoughts, and restlessness.
Id. Phares stated that conflict and stress
aggravated his anxiety. Id. Dr. Wedlock opined that
Phares had a good response to medication, and prescribed
Xanax and Amitriptyline. Id.
April 23, 2012, Phares visited Dr. Wedlock and again reported
his functioning as somewhat difficult, as well as anxious
thoughts, difficulty falling asleep, excessive worry, and
shaking. Id. at 54, 56. Dr. Wedlock noted that
Phares demonstrated the appropriate mood and affect, and
continued Phares' Xanax prescription. Id. at 57.
On July 26, 2012, Dr. Wedlock opined that Phares' panic
disorder was stable and Phares handle medication well.
Id. at 51. Dr. Wedlock refilled Phares'
medications without change. Id. at 53. On October
18, 2012, Dr. Wedlock again noted that Phares remained
stable. Id. at 48. On January 11, 2013, Dr. Wedlock
indicated that Phares' panic attacks were under
“fair control, ” Phares demonstrated the
appropriate mood and affect, and continued Phares' Xanax
prescription without change. Id. at 45-47.
February 12, 2013, at the request of the state agency, Robert
Kurzhals, Ph.D., evaluated Phares and reported that Phares
goes out on his own once a month to purchase groceries,
serves as his father's power of attorney, and manages his
father's finances. Id. at 90. Phares also
informed Dr. Kurzhals that he has anxiety about driving, but
he maintains a driver's license and drives himself to
appointments. Id. at 90-91. Dr. Kurzhals suggested a
diagnosis of panic disorder with agoraphobia and personality
disorder NOS with dependent traits. Id. at 93.
April 16, 2013, Phares returned to Dr. Wedlock and reported
that he was doing well. (Filing No. 8-9 at 46.) Dr.
Wedlock noted that Phares' condition was stable, and
continued his medication without change. Id. at
46-48. On July 16, 2013, Dr. Wedlock opined that Phares'
panic attacks were stable, and again continued his medication
without change. Id. at 45. On October 17, 2013, Dr.
Wedlock again reported that Phares' panic attacks were
stable, and noted that Phares had no associated symptoms.
Id. at 37.
January 17, 2014, Phares visited Dr. Wedlock and reported
that driving and being around people made his panic attacks
worse. Id. at 36. Dr. Wedlock refilled Phares'
medication and recommended that he return in three to four
months. Id. When Phares returned on April 18, 2014,
he reported that his Xanax and Amitriptyline prescriptions