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Leason v. Berryhill

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

March 29, 2018

LESLEE E. LEASON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Leslee E. Leason (“Leason”), appeals the Administrative Law Judge's decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636, the Court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge (Filing No. 18), who submitted his Report and Recommendation on February 12, 2018, recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and remanded for further consideration (Filing No. 19 at 12). The Commissioner timely filed an Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Filing No. 20). For the reasons set forth below, the Court OVERRULES two of the Commissioner's Objections, ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation in part, and REMANDS the decision of the Commissioner for further consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Elaboration of the procedural and factual background is unnecessary as the parties and the Magistrate Judge have sufficiently detailed the background in the briefs and the Report and Recommendation. The Court mentions only the essential facts in this entry.

         Leason was born in July 1978 and was 34 years old at the time he filed for disability in January 2013. (Filing No. 13-2 at 27.) Leason has a GED, 43, but has never worked fulltime. 40, 43. He worked periodically between 1995 and 2008, and for a brief period again in 2014. (Filing No. 13-5 at 11-20.) He has not held employment since. He alleges disability based on seizures, headaches and mental impairments.

         In September 2010, Leason established care with Open Door Health Center (“Open Door”). From that time until his official diagnosis of epilepsy by neurologist Dr. Ryan Johnston, Leason experienced ongoing seizure symptoms.[1] (SeeFiling No. 15 at 7-8.) After several intervening visits to Open Door, Leason visited a neurologist in October 2012, which resulted in diagnoses of epilepsy, migraines, and cognitive impairment. Id. On later visits to Open Door, Leason met repeatedly with psychologist Mary Jo Roseberry. Dr. Roseberry notes that Leason “seems to have some strange ideas about what is happening to him” and that his judgment and insight were “minimal” (Filing No. 15 at 9). On a memory test, Leason struggled. Leason's activities of daily living and his ability to work have been affected by his various physical and mental health conditions.

         On January 20, 2009, Leason filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits. (Filing No. 13-2 at 13.) On January 23, 2009, Leason filed an application for supplemental security income. Both applications were initially denied on April 14, 2009, and affirmed by the Appeals Council on December 10, 2012. Id.

         On January 4, 2013, Leason filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset beginning November 21, 2008. Psychologist Glen Davidson, Jr., Ph.D., evaluated Leason on January 29, 2013, at the request of the Disability Determination Bureau. Dr. Davidson wrote that Leason seemed capable of understanding what was asked of him but was viewed as being uncooperative. There were concerns that he was high or intoxicated and Dr. Davidson had concerns about reliability, validity, exaggeration, and malingering.

         Leason's claim was initially denied on May 15, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on December 10, 2013. Id. Administrative Law Judge Dennis Lyndell Pickett (the “ALJ”) held a video hearing on May 19, 2015. The ALJ denied Leason's application on June 19, 2015, and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on November 8, 2016 (Filing No. 13-2 at 2).


         When the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ “need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted.” Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision, and while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” he must “provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The Court “must be able to trace the ALJ's path of reasoning” from the evidence to his conclusion. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 874 (7th Cir. 2000).

         When a party raises specific objections to elements of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court reviews those elements de novo, determining for itself whether the Commissioner's decision as to those issues is supported by substantial evidence or was the result of an error of law. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 72(b). The district court “makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or modify the report and recommendation, and it need not accept any portion as binding; the court may, however, defer to those conclusions . . . to which timely objections have not been raised by a party.” Sweet v. Colvin, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141893, at *3 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 30, 2013) (citing Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 759-61 (7th Cir. 2009)).


         In his appeal of the ALJ's decision, Leason advanced five primary arguments: (1) the ALJ improperly determined Leason did not meet listing 12.05(C); (2) the ALJ neglected to include Leason's limitations of concentration, persistence, and pace in hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert (“VE”); (3) the ALJ improperly evaluated a consultative opinion regarding Leason's abilities to manipulate with his hands; (4) the ALJ selectively reviewed evidence from Vocational Rehabilitation (“VR”); and (5) the ALJ did not properly include information from an accepted third-party statement in his hypothetical question posed to the VE. (SeeFiling No. 15 at 2.) The Magistrate Judge concluded that remand was warranted in Leason's favor on all of his contentions except for Leason's argument that the ALJ selectively reviewed evidence from VR. (Filing No. 19 at 10.) The Commissioner objected to all of the ALJ's findings except for the ...

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