United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JAMES H. GOSSARD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Docs. 19 & 20 ("In accordance with provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States magistrate judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, ... order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.").) Upon consideration of the administrative record, plaintiff's brief, and the Commissioner's brief, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.
Plaintiff alleges disability due to diabetes mellitus, obesity, personality disorder, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, acute low back pain, bilateral degenerative arthritis of the hips, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 18, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairment: diabetes mellitus and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
The claimant's medically determinable mental impairments of personality disorder and substance addiction disorder, considered singly and in combination, do not cause more than minimal limitation in the claimant's ability to perform basic mental work activities and are therefore not severe impairments.
On October 17, 2011, Dr. Kenneth R. Starkey evaluated the claimant at the request of the Social Security Administration. The claimant reported his problem was "not being able to concentrate." He said he loses his vision, he thought due to his diabetes. He reported these intermittent problems with concentration and visual acuity problems since October 2010 with gradual worsening. He described vague problems with sleep and stress that was due to tax and bankruptcy problems but not requiring formal psychiatric treatment. He had a history of alcohol and marijuana dependence prior to 1996 and what appeared to be a pervasive and persisting pattern of grandiosity and disregard for/violation of the rights of others. He can fee[d], bathe, groom and dress himself without assistance. He can use a phone, count money, prepare meals, shop for groceries and drive an auto without assistance. He completed the 12th grade in school, attending regular classes. He receives 10% service-connected disability compensation for hypertension. On exam, he was able to focus and sustain attention without distraction from extraneous stimuli. Estimated intellectual functioning was in the Average range. His memory functions were intact. His mood was generally euthymic and his affect was congruent with this mood. His insight and judgment appeared generally adequate. During the day, he washes the dishes, takes out the trash, feeds his rooster and 2 cats, checks his blood sugar and prepares his food. He works on the computer, vacuums, does the laundry, plays the guitar, watches television, reads, goes to the grocery store and drugstore and attends church three days a week. The impressions were alcohol dependence-full remission per claimant; cannabis dependence-full remission per claimant; personality disorder, nos-narcissistic and antisocial traits; chronic leg pain; hypertension; diabetes mellitus and hypercholesterolemia with a GAF of 68, indicating some mild symptoms (e.g., depressed mood and mild insomnia) or some difficulty in social, occupational or school functioning (e.g., occasional truancy, or theft within the household), but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships. Dr. Starkey stated that the claimant's ability to understand, remember and carry out simple/concrete instructions appeared [well] from a psychological perspective. His ability to work independently as opposed with close supervision also appeared good. His ability to work with supervisors, co-workers and the general public appeared adequate. His ability to deal with work pressures also appeared adequate at the present time. The medical evidence of record provided by the State agency was review[ed] and the findings were considered in the overall assessment.
On May 9, 2012, records from VA Biloxi show in Exhibit 6F, page 14 through 16, the claimant was psychiatrically evaluated. He reported being incarcerated several times, presumably as a result of behavioral disturbance but did not wish to talk about the reasons for incarceration. He admitted to a long history of being irritable. On Mental Status Exam, his affect was anxious and his mood was described as "stressed." His thought process was often tangential. His speech was of normal volume but modestly pressured and quite difficult to interrupt. There was no evidence of psychosis.
On January 29, 2013, Mobile Veterans Administration personnel said the claimant reported experiencing increasing mood fluctuations and irritability, which he attributed to "stress." On the mental status exam, he was alert and oriented times 4. There was no involuntary movement noted. Eye contact was good. Affect was anxious and he described his mood as "stressed." Thought process was goal-directed and speech was of normal rate and volume. There was no evidence of psychosis. Acute risk of suicidal behavior was considered low. He had not taken mood-stabilizing medication for an extended period of time. He was willing to try topiramate.
As for the opinion evidence, more weight is given to Dr. Starkey whose opinions are consistent with his objective findings and with the claimant's activities of daily living. Dr. Starkey found only mild symptoms or mild difficulty. This is consistent with his finding that the claimant was able to focus and sustain attention without distraction from outside stimuli. His mood was euthymic and his affect congruent with his mood. Insight and judgment were adequate. The claimant's four broad functional areas were no more than mild. The VA records showed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, there is little evidence that he actually has bipolar disorder, which consists of a history of episodic periods manifested by the full symptomatic picture of both manic and depressive syndrome. VA records show the claimant's mood was as he described it. Furthermore, the claimant was not taking any medication at these visits. Although the claimant reported not getting along with others, his activities of daily living do not indicate that he has more than minimal mental limitations. He attends church 2-3 times per week, goes grocery shopping, reads, pays his own bills, writes pen pals, and engages in religious studies.
In making this finding, the undersigned has considered the four broad functional areas set out in the disability regulations for evaluating mental disorders and in section 12.00C of the Listing of Impairments. These four broad functional areas are known as the "paragraph B" criteria.
The first functional area is activities of daily living. In this area, the claimant has no limitation. He mows the grass and uses a wheelbarrow to clean up yard debris. He prepares meals, cleans house, washes dishes, does the laundry, and enjoys reading and engaging in religious studies. He cares for his rooster and his uncle's disabled son.
The next functional area is social functioning. In this area, the claimant has mild limitation. The claimant stated that he does not like being around others. However, he goes grocery shopping and attends church 2-3 times per week. He also corresponds with pen pals. He attends college classes.
The third functional area is concentration, persistence or pace. In this area, the claimant has mild limitation. The claimant stated that he enjoys reading and religious studies. He is also capable of paying his own bills. He attends college classes and is a full-time student making A's and B's.
The fourth functional area is episodes of decompensation. In this area, the claimant has experienced no episodes of decompensation, which have been of extended duration. There is no indication in the ...