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Bennett v. Berryhill

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

September 11, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.



         Plaintiff Angela C. Bennett (“Bennett”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her Application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). For the following reasons, the Court REMANDS the decision of the Commissioner for further consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On August 5, 2013, Bennett filed an application for DIB under Title II of the Act, alleging a disability onset date of May 13, 2013. (Filing No. 18-5 at 193-95.) Her claim was denied on October 2, 2013, and again on reconsideration on January 14, 2014. (Filing No. 18-4 at 97-110.) After a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kimberly Sorg-Graves, Bennett's claim was again denied. (Filing No. 18-2 at 38.) Bennett's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied on November, 12, 2015, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. Bennett filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) asking the Court to review the ALJ's decision.

         B. Factual Background

         Bennett was born August 1, 1960 and she was 53 years of age at her alleged onset date. She is a high school graduate and has a prior work history of customer service at retail stores such as Walmart, Hobby Lobby and Babies R Us. (Filing No. 18-2 at 50-51.) Bennett states that she is unable to work due to medical issues arising from disorders of the spine and an anxiety disorder.

         The Court will limit its recitation of facts to those relevant to the issues being challenged. Bennett's history of back pain dates back to at least 2013. A medical assessment from May 2013 showed that she suffered from lumbar radiculopathy, lumbar degenerative disc disease, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. (Filing No. 18-11 at 16.) Lumbar radiculopathy was also noted in July 2012. (Filing No. 18-11 at 89.)

         In July 2013, Bennett presented to IU Behavior Health regarding depression and anxiety. She reported her husband was emotionally abusive and she felt “very unhappy” in her marriage. John Delaney, M.D. (“Dr. Delaney”), assessed depression and anxiety disorder, continued her medication and recommended psychotherapy. (Filing No. 18-10 at 674-674.)

         On September 16, 2013, Bennett underwent an internal medicine examination with a consultative examiner. (Filing No. 18-11 at 61-65.) The examiner noted that Bennett reported her back pain was getting worse, and that she had difficulty with sitting, standing, walking, bending over and lifting for long periods of time. (Filing No. 18-11 at 65.) Her lumbar forward bending was painful and limited to about 60 degrees. (Filing No. 18-11 at 65.) The examiner noted that Bennett suffered from chronic back pain due to degenerative disc disease and sacroiliac joint arthritis. (Filing No. 18-11 at 65.)

         Also in September 2013, Bennett underwent a consultative psychological examination with Alfred R. Barrow, Ph.D. (Filing No. 18-11 at 67.) Dr. Barrow noted a “somewhat tense, anxious, depressed, and periodically tearful” mood in Bennett. (Filing No. 18-11 at 70.) He concluded that she presented symptoms consistent with major depressive disorder, which at the time of the examination was mild in severity. (Filing No. 18-11 at 73.)

         In October 2013, Dr. Pressner, a state agency psychologist, reviewed the medical evidence and concluded that Bennett's medically determinable impairments of anxiety and affective disorders were non-severe, and did not meet or equal the criteria of any listings, because they caused no more than mild limits in any of the “B criteria” areas of functioning (Filing No. 18-3 at 25-26).

         In December 2013, an examining neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist, Donald Layton, Ph.D. evaluated Bennett to consider the efficacy of her pain management treatment. Dr. Layton did not find Bennett to be an acceptable candidate for invasive pain intervention, including spinal cord stimulator placement, because of her mood disorder and anxiety. (Filing No. 18-14 at 46.) Dr. Layton noted that Bennett had a stressful family life, with both her husband and daughter addicted to medications. He found her to have “significantly elevated levels of depression and anxiety” which made her have “feelings of being overwhelmed, unable to cope and of giving up.” (Filing No. 18-14 at 46.) A Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test indicated Bennett had a tendency to exaggerate her symptoms somewhat. (Filing No. 18-14 at 45-46).

         In January 2014, state agency doctors Joelle Larsen, Ph.D. and J. Sands, M.D. concluded that Bennett was not disabled. (Filing No. 18-3 at 23-24.) In an MRI performed in June 2014, the radiologist observed “moderately severe if not severe right foraminal narrowing” which had “progressed somewhat.” (Filing No. 18-14 at 42.) In April 2015, treating physician Dr. Joshua Salyer noted a “disc protrusion with spurring causing moderately severe right foraminal narrowing with ...

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