United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jamal Porter (“Plaintiff” or
“Porter”) brings this action pursuant to Section
205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”),
seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claims for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Based on the court's review of the record and the briefs
submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision
of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.
April 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) alleging
disability as of December 31, 2008. (Tr. 20, 39, 71).
Plaintiff later amended her alleged onset date and he now
contends that it is June 24, 2014. (Tr. 20, 39, 163).
Plaintiff's initial application was denied by the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) on July 14, 2014.
(Tr. 87-89). On July 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed a request for
a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
(Tr. 92). That request was granted (Tr. 95-97), and Plaintiff
received a hearing before ALJ Denise Copeland (“the
ALJ”) on February 8, 2016. (Tr. 39-65, 105-10). In her
decision dated April 20, 2016, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the
Act, since his amended disability onset date of June 24,
2014. (Tr. 20-32). After the Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3), that decision became
final and a proper subject for this court's review.
Statement of Facts
was born on November 15, 1975 and was 38 years old on his
amended disability onset date. (Tr. 47, 174). He alleges
disability due to back problems, bipolar disorder,
depression, bad nerves, and attention deficit disorder
(“ADD”). (Tr. 66, 71). Plaintiff last worked at
Quality Grinding doing machine work from July 2008 until
October 2008. (Tr. 72, 186). Prior to that, Plaintiff worked
for Goodyear as a tire loader. (Id.). Plaintiff has
not worked since 2008. (Tr. 178). Plaintiff was incarcerated
from 2000-2006, and he associates his current mental
condition with his experience during that time, although he
says he has always tended to keep to himself. (Tr. 54, 207,
had not seen a medical professional prior to filing his
disability claim, and the record does not reflect any medical
evidence prior to 2014. However, Plaintiff saw Dr. Sathyan
Iyer on June 7, 2014 at the request of Disability
Determination Services (“DDS”). (Tr. 71, 275-78).
Dr. Iyer described Plaintiff as alert with no acute distress
and noted a smell of alcohol on his breath. (Id.).
Dr. Iyer found Plaintiff to have a history of depression
probably caused and aggravated by excess alcohol consumption,
as well as uncontrolled hypertension. (Tr. 278). Dr. Iyer
found Plaintiff to have no significant physical limitations,
but that “continued excess alcohol use could impair
many functions.” (Id.).
two weeks later June Nichols, a licensed psychologist with
Gadsden Psychological Services, LLC, examined and evaluated
Plaintiff at the request of DDS. (Tr. 280). Dr. Nichols
described Plaintiff as neat and clean with a clear stream of
consciousness and orientation to person, place, time, and
situation. (Tr. 281). She noted that Plaintiff was
“visibly shaking during the interview with a tremulous
voice” and that while Plaintiff's speed of mental
processing was slowed, his recent memory functions were
grossly intact. (Id.). There was no evidence of
confusion in his thought processes. (Tr. 282). Dr. Nichols
diagnosed Plaintiff with alcohol dependence, post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”), major depressive
disorder, panic disorder without agoraphobia, generalized
anxiety disorder, and specific reading disorder. (Tr.
282-83). Dr. Nichols found the chance for significant
improvement over next twelve months was “poor without
intense intervention regarding alcohol abuse and other
symptoms.” (Tr. 283). Dr. Nichols explained that
Plaintiff's ability to relate interpersonally and his
ability to withstand the pressures of everyday work were
compromised based on his current symptoms. (Id.).
Further, Plaintiff was found to have deficits that would
interfere with his ability to remember, understand, and carry
out work related instructions. (Id.). Although she
did not think that Plaintiff would be able to handle his own
funds, Dr. Nichols said Plaintiff could live independently
with assistance. (Id.).
that same year, on October 7, 2014, Plaintiff went to
Cherokee, Etowah, Dekalb Mental Health Center
(“CED”) complaining of auditory hallucinations,
paranoia, and depression. (Tr. 302). Plaintiff reported the
auditory hallucinations were not commands but statements of
his worthlessness. (Tr. 312). In the intake assessment
Plaintiff was described as appearing appropriate but with a
dysphoric mood and blunted affect. (Tr. 303-04). Plaintiff
was unable to sit still, reported that he did not like
crowds, and was unable to be alone. (Tr. 304, 312). Plaintiff
reported his symptoms started while he was incarcerated but
that he has always had social issues. (Tr. 312). Notes
indicate that a treatment plan would be formulated. (Tr.
visited Quality Life Health Services on October 14, 2014
complaining of hypertension, back pain, and headache. (Tr.
284). Dr. Ochuko Odjebda prescribed Plaintiff Flexeril,
lisinopril, and meloxicam, yet noted that Plaintiff had a
normal physical exam. (Tr. 287). The prescriptions were
filled at a Walmart pharmacy in Gadsden. (Tr. 237, 301).
November 3, 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Richard Grant at CED
Mental Health Center (“CED”). (Tr. 301). Dr.
Grant noted Plaintiff's depressed mood and affect with
reports of hallucinations, delusions, and inadequate
attention and concentration. (Tr. 301). Plaintiff's
insight and judgment were fair and thought process was
logical. (Tr. 301). Dr. Grant prescribed Plaintiff Seroquel
for depression. (Tr. 301). That prescription was again filled
at the Walmart pharmacy in Gadsden. (Tr. 237, 301).
followed up with Dr. Odjegba on November 6, 2014. (Tr. 284,
289). In addition to following-up on complaints of back pain
and hypertension, Plaintiff was experiencing a cough from
allergies. (Tr. 289). Lab reports indicate that Plaintiff
returned on November 25, 2014 for blood work. (Tr. 296).
evidence indicates that Plaintiff continued to seek therapy
from CED. On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff reported that the
Seroquel made him sleepy. (Tr. 300). Plaintiff also reported
isolating himself and being afraid of letting people down.
(Id.). His mood was dysphoric and his affect was
constricted, yet his GAF score increased from 40 to 45.
(Id.). Therapy notes from February 13, 2015 indicate
that depression coping skills were discussed with Plaintiff
and that his GAF remained at 45. (Tr. 299). Therapy notes
from March 27, 2015 indicate that Plaintiff's depression
had improved but that he continued to isolate himself, though
he walked his daughter to the bus approximately two times per
week. (Tr. 323). Plaintiff was encouraged to try to visit
Dollar General one time a week to help with isolation.
(Id.). About two months later, on May 19, 2015,
Plaintiff saw Dr. Grant. (Tr. 325). His mood was described as
euthymic, and he stated that he was feeling more depressed.
(Id.). Around the same time Plaintiff was given
another prescription for Seroquel, but it does not appear
Plaintiff ever filled that prescription. (Tr. 237, 324).
therapy session on May 20, 2015, Plaintiff noted an increase
in depression symptoms due to an injury to his leg. (Tr.
325). However, Plaintiff also noted that he was motivated by
his relationship with his daughter. (Id.). On August
17, 2015, Plaintiff reported to the therapist that he was
feeling down because he was unable to walk his daughter to
the bus that day. (Tr. 326). He stated that he continued to
isolate himself. (Id.). A therapy note from November
12, 2015 indicates that Plaintiff felt overwhelmed with
stress and having not had his medication for over a month.
(Tr. 328). On December 1, 2015, Plaintiff reported hearing
voices. (Tr. 330). Notes indicate that “Patient has
relapsed due to not taking the Seroquel for several months.
Not compliant with process of obtaining medication. Plan is
to resume medication.” (Tr. 330).
January 26, 2016, about two months after Plaintiff's last
reported visit to CED, Plaintiff's counsel referred him
to Dr. David Wilson at Gadsden Psychological Services who
performed a psychological evaluation. (Tr. 317-21). During
the interview, Plaintiff said he felt depressed 95% of the
time, but that he felt better when he saw his daughter. (Tr.
320). He said he saw his daughter two to three times a week
and took her to the park. (Id.). According to Dr.
Wilson, Plaintiff had problems with mental control and
attention, problems with short term and working memory, and
severe problems with mood disturbance. (Id.).
Plaintiff's interview with Dr. Wilson also indicated that
he was still taking Seroquel, although the pharmacy records
show the last time he filled a prescription was on November
3, 2014, and during his last visit to CED, which was about
two months before his interview, he had been off his
medication for several months. (Tr. 237, 321, 330). Dr.
Wilson diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder,
recurrent (severe with psychotic features), post-traumatic
stress disorder, panic disorder, history of alcohol abuse,
estimated borderline intelligence, chest pain, problems with
back and legs, acid reflux, and severe hypertension. (Tr.
321). Dr. Wilson opined that Plaintiff could not (1) sustain
an ordinary routine without special supervision, (2) interact
appropriately with co-workers, or (3) adhere to basic
standards of neatness and cleanliness. (Tr. 322). Dr. Wilson
further estimated Plaintiff would be expected to fail to
report to work twenty-eight out of thirty days.
under the Act is determined using a five-step test. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial gainful
activity” is work activity that involves doing
significant physical or mental activities for pay or profit.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1572. Work activity may be considered
substantial even if it is part-time or if the claimant does
less, gets paid less, or has less responsibility than when he
worked before. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). Even if no
profit is realized, work activity may still be considered
gainful so long as it is the kind of work usually done for
pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b). If the ALJ finds
that the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful
activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe
medical impairment or a combination of impairments that is
severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant
does not have a severe impairment or combination of
impairments, then he may not claim disability.
(Id.). If the impairment is not expected to result
in death, the claimant must also meet the 12-month duration
requirement. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment
meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
404.1525, and 404.1526. If the claimant meets or equals a
listed impairment and meets the duration requirement, he will