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Lear v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 9, 2018

NATHAN LEAR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the court on petition for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner filed by the plaintiff, Nathan Lear, on February 10, 2017. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Nathan Lear, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 5, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of April 5, 2005. (Tr. 22). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Lear's application and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 33). After a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Edward P. Studzinski issued an unfavorable decision on August 16, 2012. (Tr. 33). The Appeals Council denied review on November 13, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5). Lear filed a complaint in the United States District Court on September 2, 2014. (Tr. 477). On March 24, 2016, District Judge Philip Simon remanded the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 513-25). Pursuant to the District Court's order, the Appeals Council vacated the previous decision and directed further proceedings consistent with the District Court's order. (Tr. 406). Lear filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income on January 7, 2015. The Appeals Counsel rendered the SSI claim duplicative and directed the ALJ to consolidate the claim files. The ALJ held a hearing on October 26, 2016, and issued an unfavorable decision on November 25, 2016. (Tr. 369-94). Impartial Vocational Expert (VE) Julie Bose appeared at the hearing.

         The ALJ found that Lear met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2007. (Tr. 371). At step one of the five step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Lear had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of April 1, 2005. (Tr. 371). At step two, the ALJ determined that Lear had the following severe impairments: organic mental disorder secondary to traumatic brain injury and neuropathy, lower extremity. (Tr. 372).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Lear did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 372). Specifically, the ALJ found that Lear did not meet Listing 11.14, Peripheral Neuropathy, because the medical evidence showed generally that Lear had no problems walking, maintaining his balance, rising from a seated position, or using his upper extremities. (Tr. 373). Based on the medical evidence, the ALJ found that the severity of the neuropathic disorder affecting his lower extremities did not meet or medically equal the listing criteria. (Tr. 373). The ALJ also concluded that Lear failed to meet Listing 11.18, Traumatic Brain Injury, as the evidence did not show that he had marked limitation in his ability to understand, remember, or apply information; interact with others; concentrate, persist, maintain pace, or adapt; or manage himself. (Tr. 373-74).

         The ALJ determined that Lear failed to meet Listing 12.02, Organic Mental Disorders, because he did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria, which required a marked limitation in at least two of the following:

restriction of activities of daily living; difficulties in maintaining social functioning; difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace;

         or a marked limitation in one of the following:

restriction of activities of daily living; difficulties in maintaining social functioning; difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

(Tr. 378). The ALJ defined a marked limitation as more than moderate but less than extreme and repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, as three episodes within one year or once every four months with each episode lasting at least two weeks. (Tr. 378).

         The ALJ determined that Lear had moderate restrictions in daily living activities. (Tr. 378). The ALJ noted that with reminders and guidance from his case manager, Lear was capable of completing activities of daily living. (Tr. 379). The most recent Function Report indicated that he could clean, do laundry, and go shopping. (Tr. 379). However, the ALJ noted that daily activities took Lear extra time because of his decreased motor skills. (Tr. 379). Further, the ALJ noted that the case manager documented repeatedly that she reminded Lear to reduce the clutter in his home. (Tr. 379).

         Next, the ALJ found that Lear had moderate difficulties in social functioning. (Tr. 379). Lear reported that he had lost a job because he argued with his supervisor and cursed at a coworker. (Tr. 379). He sought treatment from a therapist because he was frustrated easily and had difficulty controlling his anger. (Tr. 379). However, the ALJ found that there was no evidence that he responded to his frustrations with verbal or physical aggression. (Tr. 379). Lear's employer stated that Lear had trouble accepting criticism and debated with him frequently. (Tr. 379). However, the ALJ found that there was no evidence that this debate took the form of verbal aggression. (Tr. 379). The ALJ noted that Lear had trouble meeting new people, especially women. (Tr. 379). Lear reported that his last relationship ended in August 2015 and that he obsessed over the relationship ending until February 2016. (Tr. 379).

         The ALJ concluded that Lear had marked difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 379). Lear alleged that he struggled with concentration and that he had memory loss. (Tr. 379). In February 2011, he underwent a psychological consultative evaluation. (Tr. 379). The evaluating psychologist found that his memory function was below average. (Tr. 379). A second evaluation by a treating psychiatrist in December 2015 found that Lear did well in terms of attention, registration, concentration, and short term memory. (Tr. 379-80). The ALJ noted that in the time between the two evaluations, Lear had stopped drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. (Tr. 380). Lear reported that he had difficulty processing information in social situations. (Tr. 380). Further, the ALJ noted that Lear's ability to sustain his concentration was affected by stress. (Tr. 380). Also, the ALJ indicated that occasionally Lear's leg pain could cause his mind to wander while performing tasks. (Tr. 380).

         The ALJ found that Lear had not experienced any episodes of decompensation which were of extended duration. (Tr. 380). Lear alleged that he had a history of suicidal ideation and that he had attempted suicide. (Tr. 380). However, he did not receive mental health treatment until October 2012, and he stated to his treating psychiatrist that he had not felt suicidal since he was 24. (Tr. 380). Because Lear did not have two marked limitations or one marked limitation and repeated episodes of decompensation, the ALJ determined that he did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria. (Tr. 380).

         Additionally, the ALJ found that Lear did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 381). The ALJ determined that there was no evidence that Lear had experienced any episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 381). Moreover, the ALJ determined that the evidence did not suggest that Lear would decompensate if subjected to even a minimal increase on mental demands or change in environment. (Tr. 381). The ALJ acknowledged that Lear received skill training both in and out of his home from a case manager. (Tr. 381). However, he found that there ...


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