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Johnson v. Berryhill

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

March 16, 2018




         Plaintiff Lamont D. Johnson (“Johnson”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On April 1, 2013, Johnson filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset beginning June 1, 2007. The initial claim was denied on June 3, 2013, and again on reconsideration on August 21, 2013. (Filing No. 19-4 at 11.) Johnson filed a timely request for a hearing on August 26, 2013. (Filing No. 19-4 at 18.) He appeared and testified at a hearing held before Administrative Law Judge James R. Norris (the “ALJ”) on November 4, 2014. On November 25, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Johnson's applications for SSI. (Filing No. 19-2 at 18.) Johnson requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on April 28, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. (Filing No. 19-2 at 2.) On June 13, 2016, Johnson filed this action for judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Filing No. 1.)

         B. Factual Background

         Johnson was born in 1980 and was 26 years old at the time of his alleged disability onset. He was 33 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and is now 37 years old. Johnson attended school through the tenth or eleventh grade (Filing No. 19-8 at 78), and participated in multiple special education classes (Filing No. 19-6 at 44). His only work history occurred between 1997 and 2001, when he was employed full-time as a janitor. (Filing No. 19-5 at 22.) He has not held employment since. (Filing No. 19-2 at 51.)

         In April 2008, Johnson sustained a gunshot injury to his left elbow. (Filing No. 19-8 at 35.) He underwent surgery and was evaluated by an occupational therapist afterwards, but he did not make recurring visits. Id. at 41, 46. In September 2009, Johnson was bitten on the arm by a police dog. Id. at 51. Medical records indicate a limited range of motion in his elbow as the result of pain, but findings were otherwise unremarkable. Id. at 52. Johnson again consulted with an occupational therapist, but there are no records of follow-up or evidence of functional limitations regarding the dog bite. Id. at 57.

         In his initial application for benefits, Johnson claimed disability as the result of the gunshot injury, the dog bite injury, and illiteracy. (Filing No. 19-6 at 2.) Physically, he reported that his left arm “tingles and locks up” and “does not have very much strength.” Id. at 8. Functionally, Johnson noted that he “can't fill out applications” and “had trouble working” because he “never learned how to read” when he was in school. Id. As part of the disability process, Johnson underwent a medical consultative examination in January 2010. The examiner, Dr. Bilal Safadi, noted that Johnson was not in apparent distress and was able to get on and off the examination table. Findings from the visit were unremarkable other than notations of both diminished strength in Johnson's upper left extremity and decreased grip strength in Johnson's left hand. (Filing No. 19-8 at 21.) Johnson underwent a second consultative examination in March 2013, conducted by Dr. Mauro Agnelneri. Dr. Agnelneri found no impairment relating to Johnson's gunshot wounds and noted unremarkable findings concerning Johnson's upper extremities. Id. at 97-98. Dr. Agnelneri further reported that Johnson followed simple and complex directions and commands without difficulty, had intact recent and remote memory, and had grossly normal intellectual functioning (Filing No. 19-9 at 96). Finally, Johnson attended a third medical consultative examination in June 2014 with Dr. Diane Elrod. Clinical findings were unremarkable beyond Johnson's reports of “chronic pain”. Id. at 100-02.

         Johnson underwent psychological examinations as well. During one such examination, with Dr. Herbert Henry (“Dr. Henry”) in January 2007, he reported he was unable to work because his inability to read, spell, and write kept him from filling out job applications. Id. at 109. Education records indicate that Johnson attended special education classes and performed below grade level while in school. (Filing No. 19-6 at 46, 51.) Cognitive testing conducted in a second psychological examination in 2014, when Johnson was 33, revealed Johnson's full scale IQ as 62-in the “extremely low” range of intellectual functioning. (Filing No. 19-9 at 3.) In a 2014 consultative examination, conducted by Dr. Jason Hankee (“Dr. Hankee”), Johnson was also diagnosed with depressive disorder, anti-social personality features, and mild intellectual disability. Id. Dr. Hankee completed a medical source statement form and indicated that Johnson had mild-to-moderate restrictions in his ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions; and had only mild restrictions in his ability to interact appropriately with supervision, co-workers, and the public, as well as respond to changes in the routine work setting. (Filing No. 19-9 at 7-8).

         At the hearing before the ALJ, Dr. Mark Farber, an independent medical expert, testified that Johnson had left arm pain and limitations due to his gunshot wound but no medically determinable physical impairments. (Filing No. 19-2 at 42.) Dr. Farber testified that, based upon his review of the medical record, no objective or clinical evidence exists to support Johnson's alleged restrictions or pain. Id. at 43.

         In addition, impartial psychological expert Dr. James Brooks (“Dr. Brooks”) testified at the hearing. Dr. Brooks found that, at the time of the hearing, Johnson's mental impairments included borderline intellectual functioning, depressive disorder, and anti-social disorder. Id. at 47. Dr. Brooks concluded that Johnson had mild limitations in his ability to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace. Id. As a result, Dr. Brooks concluded that Johnson was able to perform simple, repetitive tasks and have occasional contact with others. Id. at 47-48.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Johnson met the insured status requirement of the Act through December 31, 2017. The ALJ then began the five-step analysis. At step one, the ALJ found that Johnson had not been involved in substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2013, the application date. (Filing No. 19-2 at 23.) At step two, the ALJ found that Johnson had “the following severe impairments: pain residuals of gunshot wound, depression, anti-social personality disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning.” Id. The ALJ also found that Johnson had a non-severe impairment “consisting of dog bite.” Id. at 23-24. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Johnson does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 24.

         The ALJ then determined that, while Johnson had no past relevant work, he had a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work in the form of simple and repetitive tasks, with superficial or occasional interaction with others and allowance for oral and demonstrative instructions. Id. at 26. At step five, the ALJ determined that Johnson was not disabled because there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Johnson could perform, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC. These jobs include dishwasher, hospital cleaner, and janitor. Id. at 32. Therefore, the ALJ denied Johnson's application for SSI because he was found to be not disabled.

         II. DISABILITY AND ...

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