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Dotson v. Berryhill

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

September 5, 2018

IEASHA DOTSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, 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, Ieasha Dotson, on April 20, 2017. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Ieasha Dotson, filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on August 13, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2013. (Tr. 52). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Dotson's applications on December 11, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on July 7, 2014. (Tr. 52). Dotson subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on August 22, 2014. (Tr. 52). A hearing was held on January 27, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Laurie Wardell, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 12, 2016. (Tr. 52-62). Vocational Expert (VE) Richard J. Hamersma testified at the hearing. (Tr. 52). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).

         Dotson met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017. (Tr. 54). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 12, 2016, and made findings as to each of the steps in the five-step sequential analysis. (Tr. 52-62). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Dotson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 54).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Dotson had the following severe impairments: scoliosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 54). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Dotson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 55). The ALJ indicated that she considered the listings in section 1.00 for musculoskeletal disorders and section 12.00 for mental health disorders. (Tr. 55). However, regarding Dotson's scoliosis, the ALJ considered Listing 1.04 but indicated that she did not find evidence of nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis with ineffective ambulation in the medical record. (Tr. 55). The ALJ also considered Dotson's mental impairments, singly and in combination, according to the criteria in Listings 12.04 and 12.06. (Tr. 55). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that the severity of Dotson's mental impairments did not meet or medically equal the listings. (Tr. 55).

         In finding that Dotson did not meet the above listings, the ALJ considered the paragraph B criteria for mental impairments, which required at least two of the following:

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

(Tr. 55). 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. 55).

         The ALJ determined that Dotson had mild restriction in activities of daily living. (Tr. 55). The ALJ noted that the function reports completed by Dotson in September of 2013 and June of 2014 indicated that she was able to complete similar activities daily living. (Tr. 55). The ALJ noted that Dotson was able to care for her children, help her children with homework, prepare meals, clean, use public transportation, manage finances, shop, and visit with family. (Tr. 55).

         Next, the ALJ concluded that Dotson had moderate difficulties in social functioning. (Tr. 55). Dotson indicated that she had extreme issues with social interaction. (Tr. 56). However, the ALJ accounted for Dotson's testimony that she lived with her two children, used public transportation, spent an hour at a time on Facebook, and shopped in stores. (Tr. 56). Therefore, ALJ found that those activities demonstrated that Dotson was able to interact with others. (Tr. 56).

         Finally, the ALJ found that Dotson had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 56). The ALJ noted that Dotson's activities of daily living demonstrated that she was able to maintain attention and concentration. (Tr. 56). The ALJ found that Dotson had no episodes of decompensation which were of extended duration. (Tr. 56). Because Dotson did not have two marked limitations or one marked limitation and repeated episodes of decompensation, the ALJ determined that she did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria. (Tr. 56). Additionally, the ALJ concluded that Dotson did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 56).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed Dotson's residual functional capacity (RFC) as follows:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) as lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, standing/walking about six of eight hours, and sitting about six or eight hours. The claimant also has the following additional limitations: occasional stooping, couching, and climbing ramps and stairs, but no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no kneeling or crawling; simple, routine, and repetitive tasks not at production rate pace; occasional conduct [sic] with coworkers and supervisors; no tandem tasks and no work with the public; simple work decisions; only occasional changes in the work setting.

(Tr. 57). The ALJ explained that in considering Dotson's symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 57). First, she determined whether there was an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce Dotson's pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 57). Then, she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and ...


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