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Myers v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 23, 2017




         The Plaintiff, James Williams Myers Sr., seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On September 4, 2014, an administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on the Plaintiff's application. On October 31, 2014, the ALJ issued a Decision holding that the Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because he was not disabled under the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act. On January 29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The Plaintiff subsequently filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3).


         The Plaintiff was born on January 20, 1965. (R. at 37, ECF No. 11.) He has received a GED. (R. at 40.) The Plaintiff's work history includes working as a heating and air laborer, box stacker, tow truck driver, and construction worker. (R. at 41-50.)

         In the present case, the Plaintiff claims to have become disabled on October 23, 2012, due to multiple physical and mental impairments, including anxiety, major depressive disorder/bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), diminished vision in one eye and blindness in the other, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), fibromyalgia, diabetes, sleep deprivation, and seizures. (Pl. Br. 2, ECF No. 19.)


         Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy considering his age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff did not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of disability and thus, the Plaintiff satisfied the step one inquiry. (R. at 15.) In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting the ability to do basic work activities pursuant to § 404.1520(c). Here, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments, including PTSD, bipolar I disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, cervical degenerative disc disease, and right eye keratoconus were severe impairments because they significantly limit his ability to perform basic work activities. (Id. at 16.) Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, he earns a presumption of disability “without considering [his] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, falls short, an ALJ must move to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things he can still do physically, despite his limitations-to determine whether he can perform this “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         In the case at hand, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, do not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that the Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, as defined by § 404.1567(b). (R. at 16-18.) Specifically, the ALJ held that the Plaintiff is able to engage in lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, standing and/or walking for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, sitting for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, frequent balancing and stooping, occasional climbing ramps and stairs, crouching, kneeling, and crawling. (R. at 18.) However, the ALJ added that the Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, is limited to occupations that do not require depth perception, should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, wetness, humidity, and irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gasses, poorly ventilated areas, and chemicals. (Id.) Additionally, the Plaintiff is precluded from work involving driving motor vehicles, operating heavy or dangerous equipment or machinery, or being in close proximity to open flames with sharp objects. (Id.) With regard to the Plaintiff's mental capacity, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff is unable to engage in complex or detailed tasks, but is able to perform single, routine, and repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work, and he can sustain and attend to tasks throughout the eight-hour workday. (Id.) The Plaintiff is also limited to low stress work and superficial interactions with co-workers, supervisors, and no contact with the general public. (Id.)

         In arriving at the RFC, the ALJ determined that “the evidence of record does not demonstrate that he is totally disabled from performing work.” (R. at 20). First, the ALJ examined the Plaintiff's mental impairments, and then his physical impairments.

         A. Mental Impairments

         When analyzing the Plaintiff's PTSD and bipolar mental impairments, the ALJ noted that the claimant was discharged after attending one treatment session, that many of his symptoms were treated by medications, and that the Plaintiff did not attend treatment sessions, or if he attended, it was only superficially. (Id.)

         The ALJ also examined the Plaintiff's Global Assessment Functioning (GAF) scores, which were consistently low from 2011 through 2013, typically indicating serious functioning issues. The ALJ held that the first GAF examination conducted by Dr. Yarling was an initial assessment and is inconsistent with Dr. Yarling's findings, thus, the ALJ gave the first GAF score “only some weight.” (R. at 22.) The ALJ also scrutinized the GAF examination in 2012, which was conducted by Mr. Bingi, a psychologist and consultative examiner. (R. at 21.) The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff did not appear to be genuine with Mr. Bingi because the Plaintiff claimed that his fiancé did everything around the house and he does not have a good relationship with his family. However, the Plaintiff's fiancé suffers from bipolar disorder, rendering her disabled, and the ALJ concluded that she could not possibly do everything around the house. Moreover, the ALJ noted that the Plaintiff has reconciled with his mother and watches grandchildren[1] on a daily basis. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ gave Dr. Bingi's opinions little weight. Finally, though the Plaintiff's 2014 GAF score was low, the ALJ noted that the Plaintiff was not prescribed any more intensive treatments and thus, did not appear to give the GAF score much weight. (R. 22-23.)

         In 2013, Dr. Pressner and Dr. Hill, psychologists and state agency consultants, found that the Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry out on simple tasks, relate on a superficial basis with coworkers, and had symptom improvement with treatment compliance. (R. at 22.) The ALJ found that the opinions of Dr. Pressner and Dr. Hill were supported by the record; ...

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