United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
GEORGE E. SULLS, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on petition for judicial review of
the decision of the Commissioner filed by the plaintiff,
George E. Sulls, Jr., on May 10, 2017. For the following
reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is
plaintiff, George E. Sulls, Jr., filed applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income on July 29, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of
August 20, 2010. (Tr. 52). Sulls amended his alleged
disability onset date to June 1, 2013. (Tr. 52). The
Disability Determination Bureau denied Sulls's
applications on October 1, 2013, and again upon
reconsideration on December 5, 2013. (Tr. 52). Sulls
subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on January
3, 2014. (Tr. 52). A hearing was held on July 2, 2015, before
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Brian Saame, and the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision on August 13, 2015. (Tr.
52-67). Vocational Expert (VE) Ronald Malik and Sulls's
wife, Alicia Sulls, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 52). The
Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4).
met the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 54). On August 13, 2015,
the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision and made findings as
to each of the steps in the five-step sequential analysis.
(Tr. 52-67). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis
for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ
found that Sulls had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 1, 2013, the amended alleged onset date.
two, the ALJ determined that Sulls had the following severe
impairments: diabetes mellitus with diabetic neuropathy,
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
pancreatitis, hypothyroidism, obesity, left ear hearing loss,
knee pain, low average to borderline intellectual
functioning, and adjustment disorder with anxiety and
depression. (Tr. 55).
three, the ALJ concluded that Sulls 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 considered Sulls's physical impairments
against the following criteria: Listing 1.02, major
dysfunction of a joint; Listing 1.04 disorders of the spine;
and Listing 2.10, hearing loss not treated with cochlear
implant. (Tr. 55). Moreover, the ALJ evaluated Sulls's
diabetes mellitus against the criteria in Listing 11.14,
peripheral neuropathies, as well as his hyperthyroidism under
Listing 9.00B.2. (Tr. 56). Pursuant to SSR 02-1p, the ALJ
considered Sulls's obesity in determining whether his
medically determinable impairments met or medically equaled
any listing and in determining the residual function
capacity. (Tr. 56). After a review of the medical record, the
ALJ found that Sulls did not have a physical disability to
the degree contemplated by the listings and that no medical
expert opined that his physical impairments, either singly or
in combination, medically equaled a listing. (Tr. 56).
considered Sulls's level of intellectual functioning by
considering Listing 12.05. (Tr. 56). The ALJ noted that
before reaching the severity sections of Listing 12.05, it
was necessary for Sulls to establish that he had a
significantly sub-average intellectual functioning with
deficits in adaptive functioning that initially manifested in
the developmental period, which was before the age of 22.
(Tr. 56). The ALJ determined that there was no evidence of
significant deficits in adaptive functioning prior to age 22.
(Tr. 56). The ALJ noted that Sulls had received his high
school diploma, passed his driver's license test, and had
worked at the age 16. (Tr. 56). However, his employment was
not at substantially gainful levels. (Tr. 56). Therefore,
Sulls did not establish significant sub-average intellectual
functioning or adaptive deficits prior to age 22. (Tr. 56).
Also, the ALJ considered the severity of Sulls's
adjustment disorder against Listing 12.04, affective
disorder, and Listing 12.06, anxiety-related disorders. (Tr.
56). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that the severity of
Sulls's mental impairments did not meet or medically
equal the listings. (Tr. 57).
finding that Sulls 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
(Tr. 57). 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. 57).
determined that Sulls had mild restrictions in activities of
daily living, mild difficulties in social functioning, and
moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace.
(Tr. 57). The ALJ found that Sulls had no episodes of
decompensation which were of extended duration. (Tr. 57).
Because Sulls 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. 57). Additionally, the ALJ found that Sulls
did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 57).
consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed
Sulls's residual functional capacity (RFC) as follows:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform less than the full range of light work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant is limited to
occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching,
crawling, and climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He is limited to occasional overhead reaching and
lifting, but can do frequent handling and fingering with the
left upper extremity. He requires the option to change
positions for 10 minutes once per hour, provided he is not
off task more than 5 percent of the time. He is limited to
occasional exposure to extreme temperatures, noise,
vibration, and workplace hazards such as moving machinery and
unprotected heights. Due to moderate limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace, the claimant is limited
to simple, routine tasks. He is limited to jobs that require
no more than occasional verbal communication. He requires a
cane to walk.
(Tr. 58). The ALJ explained that in considering Sulls's
symptoms he followed a two-step process. (Tr. 58). First, he
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
Sulls's pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 58). Then, he
evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of
the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited
Sulls's functioning. (Tr. 58).
acknowledged that Sulls's primary argument was that his
impairments limited him to sedentary work, and that
considering his vocational profile it would result in a
finding of disability. (Tr. 58). The ALJ determined that
after review of the evidence Sulls's medically
determinable impairments reasonably could have been expected
to cause the alleged symptoms; however, his statements