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Holbrock v. Berryhill

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

April 4, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          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, Mary Jo Holbrock, on October 3, 2017. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.


         The plaintiff, Mary Jo Holbrock, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 26, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of November 12, 2010. (Tr. 16). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Holbrock's application initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 16). Holbrock subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on March 16, 2015. (Tr. 16). A hearing was held on September 1, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Terry Miller, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 13, 2016. (Tr. 16-27). Vocational Expert (VE) James Breen appeared at the hearing. (Tr. 16). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         Holbrock met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. 18). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Holbrock had not engaged in disqualifying work activity since November 12, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 18). The ALJ determined that Holbrock's attempts at teaching in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015 all lasted for such short periods of time that they were considered unsuccessful work attempts. (Tr. 19).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Holbrock had the following severe impairments: cold intolerance possibly due to thyroid issues and/or Raynaud's disease, major depressive disorder, dysthymia, anxiety disorder/social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, and personality disorder with borderline and narcissistic traits. (Tr. 19). The ALJ indicated that the medical evidence showed that Holbrock had been diagnosed with and treated for the above impairments, which caused more than minimal limitations in her ability to perform basic work-related activities. (Tr. 19). Holbrock also had the following non-severe impairments: allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, back problems, left shoulder problems, vertigo, low vitamin D levels, bilateral upper extremity paresthesias, heart problems, urinary incontinence, vision problems, and history of alcohol abuse. (Tr. 19).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Holbrock 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. 20). The ALJ considered Holbrock's impairments against the criteria set forth in listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08. (Tr. 21). To meet the criteria for listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08, either the paragraph B criteria or the paragraph C criteria of listings 12.04 and 12.06 must be satisfied. (Tr. 21). The ALJ noted that there was no specific listing for Raynaud's disease or cold intolerance, as well as for thyroid problems. (Tr. 21).

         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. 21). 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. 21).

         The ALJ determined that, consistent with or more restrictive than the assessments by the State agency psychologist in 2014 and 2015, Holbrock had mild limitations in activities of daily living, moderate limitations in her ability to maintain social functioning, and moderate limitations in sustaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 21). The ALJ indicated that Holbrock had not experienced any episodes of decompensation of extended duration. (Tr. 21). Additionally, the ALJ determined that there was no evidence in the record to support a finding that the paragraph C criteria was satisfied. (Tr. 21). The ALJ considered that Holbrock was neither psychiatrically hospitalized nor had she experienced significant deficits in adaptive functioning. (Tr. 25).

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

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she needs to avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold. Mentally, the claimant is limited to unskilled work, defined as limited to occupations that can be fully learned within a short period of time at no more than 30 days and that require little or no judgment to perform simple duties but also include reasoning levels 1, 2 and 3 as defined in the DOT and SVP levels 1 and 2 as rated in the SCO, with the ability to sustain this work throughout the eight-hour workday, without frequent redirection to task. She can also have only occasional work in close proximity to others to minimize distractions and she cannot perform fast-paced work or work requiring a regimented pace of production. She can have only occasional interactions with others, including supervisors, co-workers, and the general public, and she cannot have exposure to intense or critical supervision.

(Tr. 22). The ALJ explained that in considering Holbrock's symptoms he followed a two-step process. (Tr. 22). First, he determined whether there was an underlying physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce Holbrock's pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 22). Then, he evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Holbrock's functioning. (Tr. 22).

         The ALJ concluded that Holbrock's medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to cause her alleged symptoms. (Tr. 23). The ALJ noted that Holbrock had a long history of mental impairments, including affective, anxiety, and personality disorders. (Tr. 23). She had seen psychiatrists and counselors as far back as the early 1990's at McKinley Health Center. (Tr. 23). Holbrock had received fairly regular and consistent outpatient mental health treatment since the alleged onset date and had attended a depression support group. (Tr. 23). She took medication for her cold intolerance possibly due to her thyroid ...

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