United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
NATHAN L. HILL, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
August 1, 2018, plaintiff Nathan L. Hill filed a complaint in
this Court seeking review of the final decision of the
defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denying his
applications for social security disability
benefits [DE 1]. The matter is briefed and ripe for
decision [DE 22; DE 25-28]. For the reasons stated below, the
Court remands this matter to the Commissioner for further
Hill alleges that he has been unable to work since January
20, 2012. Mr. Hill suffers from several physical impairments,
including chronic back and left shoulder pain. That said, the
only issues raised in this appeal concern Mr. Hill's
mental impairments and focus primarily on his ability to
sustain concentration, persistence, and pace.
December 2014, reviewing state agents initially acknowledged
that Mr. Hill suffers from a non-severe affective disorder
which causes him mild difficulty with maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. (R. at 96-1111). Upon
reconsideration in May 2015, the state agents opined that Mr.
Hill's mental disorder actually caused him moderate
difficulty with maintaining concentration, persistence, or
pace, along with mild difficulty with his activities of daily
living and social functioning. It was further noted that Mr.
Hill had suffered from “one or two” episodes of
decompensation of an extended duration. (R. at 114-35). In
fact, Mr. Hill was hospitalized for almost two weeks in early
2015 for depression with suicidal ideation and personality
disorder. Following his discharge, Mr. Hill received
continuing psychological treatment and attended therapeutic
sessions through the substance abuse clinic.
his assessment at the clinic, Mr. Hill was observed as having
slow speech and psychomotor activity, concentration issues,
and limited insight. (R. at 607-21). It was reported that Mr.
Hill did “not seem to appreciate the role of substance
use issues in his difficulties.” In May of 2015, Mr.
Hill gave his therapist permission to call his sister because
Mr. Hill demonstrated that he was a poor historian. It was
recommended that Mr. Hill be given intensive case management
assistance to help him remember to attend his appointments
and take his medications.
record demonstrates that Mr. Hill required similar assistance
since at least October 2012. At that time, a psychological
assessment evidenced that Mr. Hill would likely require
assistance managing any funds that he was to be awarded. Mr.
Hill was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and depressed
mood which rendered him unable to handle routine and/or
non-routine changes in the workplace. However, the examining
psychologist believed that Mr. Hill could attend and
concentrate long enough to complete simple tasks.
records from 2015 also indicate that Mr. Hill was diagnosed
with bipolar disorder and depression, along with auditory
hallucinations. His alcohol use disorder and cannabis use
disorder were charted as being in remission. By September
2015, Mr. Hill was being treated for ongoing depression,
schizoaffective disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A CT scan revealed “shrinkage of brain tissue caused
from chronic alcohol abuse.” The following month it was
documented that despite remaining alcohol free for
approximately one year, Mr. Hill continued to suffer from
“profound psychiatric issues.”
April 2016, an examining psychologist indicated that Mr.
Hill's prognosis was “poor overall” and he
was likely to remain relatively stable. A neuropsychological
evaluation from July 2016 (R. at 1286-94), revealed that Mr.
Hill demonstrated “significantly slowed processing
speed, diminished attention, variable executive functioning,
and some memory weaknesses.” Although Mr. Hill could
perform simple tasks, he did so poorly within time limits.
Mr. Hill was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and
substance-induced neurocognitive impairment, along with
substance use disorders in remission.
18, 2017, Mr. Hill had a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge Lee Lewin (“ALJ”) during which Mr. Hill,
Mr. Hill's sister, a vocational expert
(“VE”), and a medical expert (“ME”)
testified. The ME admittedly had no background in psychology
and confined his opinion to assessing Mr. Hill's physical
state. Mr. Hill testified to his physical limitations caused
by pain and to his suffering from memory problems for over
five years. In fact, Mr. Hill indicated that he stopped
working in 2005, until he was reminded that it was 2011 when
he last worked. Mr. Hill also admitted to recently consuming
alcohol and marijuana. Given Mr. Hill's memory problems,
Mr. Hill's sister testified on his behalf and indicated
that Mr. Hill is not self-sufficient and that he prefers to
response to hypothetical questions posed by the ALJ, the VE
testified that a person of Mr. Hill's age and background
but limited to medium work (and a few other exertional
restrictions) involving only simple, routine tasks with
“no fast-paced production rate or strict quota
requirements” and only occasional contact with others
could perform work as a machine feeder, dining room
attendant, and laundry worker. Relying on the VE's
testimony that Mr. Hill was capable of performing these jobs
(given the above assigned residual functional capacity),
ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision for Mr. Hill on August
16, 2017. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Hill's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
determination of the Commissioner. Schomas v.
Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). Mr. Hill
seeks review of the Commissioner's decision, thereby
invoking this Court's jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and
denial of disability benefits if they are supported by
substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be
less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue,
478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if
“reasonable minds could differ” about the
disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is adequately
supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th
substantial-evidence determination, the Court considers the
entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence,
resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or
substitute the Court's own judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336
F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court
conducts a “critical review of the evidence”
before affirming the Commissioner's decision.
Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring
the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's
rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that
is contrary to the ALJ's findings. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 888 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently,
an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary
support or an adequate discussion of the issues.
Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, ...