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William M. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

December 23, 2019

WILLIAM M.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, 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, William M., on January 31, 2019. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, William M., filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on November 30, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of March 15, 2015. (Tr. 12). The Disability Determination Bureau denied William M.'s applications initially on February 3, 2016, and again upon reconsideration on May 17, 2016. (Tr. 12). William M. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on July 2, 2016. (Tr. 12). A hearing was held on September 15, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Carlton, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 16, 2018. (Tr. 12-27). Vocational Expert (VE) Dale A. Thomas appeared by telephone at the hearing. (Tr. 12). The Appeals Council denied review making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         The ALJ found that the date last insured was December 31, 2021. (Tr. 14). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that William M. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 15).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that William M. had the following severe impairments: substance abuse disorder, anxiety/depression, intellectual disorder, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (Tr. 15). The ALJ found that the medically determinable impairments significantly limited William M.'s ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 15). The ALJ noted that upon clinical examination William M. had coarse breath sounds, expiratory wheezing, decreased breath sounds, and a cough at times. (Tr. 15). Regarding his mental function, William M. reported alcohol misuse, anxiety, panic attacks in large groups or in public, drug misuse, hyperactivity/persistent restlessness, racing thoughts, sleep disturbance, sadness, depression, trouble concentrating and focusing, fear, nervousness in social situations, nightmares, agitation, irritability, anger, hallucinations, paranoia, racing thoughts, hypervigilance, and suspiciousness. (Tr. 15). The ALJ also indicated that William M. had the following physical conditions: back pain, right-hand pain, and an eye injury. (Tr. 16). However, the ALJ found that these physical impairments were non-severe because they had not existed for twelve or more months. (Tr. 16).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that William M. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 16). The ALJ determined that William M.'s physical impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any listed impairment. (Tr. 17). Next, the ALJ concluded that William M.'s mental impairments, including substance use disorders, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any listed impairment. (Tr. 17). In making this finding, the ALJ considered the paragraph B criteria for mental impairments, which required at least one extreme or two marked limitations in a broad area of functioning which include:

understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself.

(Tr. 17). The ALJ indicated that a marked limitation means the ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited, while an extreme limitation is the inability to function independently, appropriately, or effectively, and on a sustained basis. (Tr. 17).

         The ALJ found that William M. had moderate limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying information; a moderate limitation in interacting with others; marked limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and moderate limitations adapting or managing himself. (Tr. 17-18). Because William M.'s mental impairments did not cause at least two “marked” limitations or one “extreme” limitation, the ALJ determined that the paragraph B criteria was not satisfied. (Tr. 18). The ALJ also determined that William M. did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 18). Furthermore, the ALJ found that William M. did not satisfy the paragraph A criteria for listing 12.05. (Tr. 18). The ALJ noted that no State agency psychological consultant had concluded that a mental listing was medically equaled with the substance use. (Tr. 18).

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

[B]ased on all of the impairments, including the substance use disorders, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except no working at unprotected heights, no dangerous machinery, no working outdoors or in environments with excessive humidity, wetness, dust, odors, fumes, or pulmonary irritants or excess heat or cold, would be able to work in a typical office environment, limited to simple and routine work, limited to superficial interactions with the general public, would not be able to stay on task more than 70% of the workday, and would be consistently absent from work three or more days per month.

(Tr. 18).

         After considering the evidence, the ALJ found that William M.'s statements generally were consistent with the evidence concerning his concentration deficits that he would be off task and unable to consistently attend work. (Tr. 19). The ALJ afforded significant weight to the opinion of psychological consultative examiner, Dr. Dan Boen, Ph.D., who found ...


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