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Heineken v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 21, 2014

JOHN R. HEINEKEN, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER OF, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.

Plaintiff has filed applications for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Plaintiff alleges a disability onset date of July 31, 2010. On June 4, 2012, a hearing was conducted upon plaintiff's applications. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on June 13, 2012 that plaintiff was not qualified to receive benefits. This decision has been adopted by defendant. This case is now before the court upon plaintiff's motion to reverse and remand the decision to deny plaintiff's applications for benefits.

The opinions in the record from persons who provided mental health treatment and counseling to plaintiff indicate that plaintiff was disabled from substantial gainful employment. The ALJ rejected these opinions. Instead, the ALJ relied in part upon the opinion of a non-examining, non-treating medical consultant. After due consideration, the court shall reverse and remand the decision for further administrative review because the court is convinced that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinions of the persons who provided treatment and counseling to plaintiff.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish that he or she was "disabled" under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E), during the time when the claimant had "insured status" under the Social Security program. See Potter v. Secretary of Health & Human Services , 905 F.2d 1346, 1347 (10th Cir. 1990); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.130, 404.131. To be "disabled" means that the claimant is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

For supplemental security income claims, a claimant becomes eligible in the first month where he or she is both disabled and has an application on file. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.202-03, 416.330, 416.335.

The court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Rebeck v. Barnhart , 317 F.Supp.2d 1263, 1271 (D.Kan. 2004). "Substantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla;" it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id., quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The court must examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the defendant's decision, and on that basis decide if substantial evidence supports the defendant's decision. Glenn v. Shalala , 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994) (quoting Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services , 933 F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991)). The court may not reverse the defendant's choice between two reasonable but conflicting views, even if the court would have made a different choice if the matter were referred to the court de novo. Lax v. Astrue , 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A. , 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).

II. THE ALJ'S DECISION (Tr. 12-20).

There is a five-step evaluation process followed in these cases which is described in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 13-14). First, it is determined whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. Second, the ALJ decides whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is "severe" or a combination of impairments which are "severe." At step three, the ALJ decides whether the claimant's impairments or combination of impairments meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Next, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity and then decides whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. Finally, at the last step of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work considering his or her residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience.

In this case, the ALJ decided plaintiff's application should be denied on the basis of the fifth step of the evaluation process. The ALJ determined that plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as cleaner, stock checker, and photocopy machine operator.

The ALJ made the following specific findings in his decision. First, plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for Social Security benefits through December 31, 2014. Second, plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity after July 31, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability. Third, plaintiff has the following severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and osteoarthritis. Fourth, plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Fifth, plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Plaintiff can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently. Plaintiff can stand and walk 6 hours in an eight-hour day as well as sit for 6 hours in an eight-hour day. Plaintiff has an unlimited ability to push and pull and can climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl occasionally. Plaintiff also can frequently but not continually, handle and finger bilaterally. But, plaintiff needs to avoid concentrated exposure to heat. And, with regard to his mental condition, plaintiff is limited to simple unskilled work at an SVP level of 2 or less. Plaintiff should also have limited contact with the public, supervisors, and co-workers.

Finally, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is not able to perform his past relevant work as a motorcycle assembler, truck driver and installer. But, as already mentioned, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs in the national economy which plaintiff could perform given his residual functional capacity. This last finding was based in part upon the testimony of a vocational expert.

III. THE ALJ DID NOT PROPERLY ANALYZE THE OPINION EVIDENCE IN THIS CASE.

Dr. Milada Medvedeva was a treating mental health provider for plaintiff starting on July 11, 2011. She completed a mental impairment questionnaire on May 1, 2012. (Tr. 1281-1284). The form states that plaintiff suffered from PTSD related to childhood trauma and also from major depressive disorder. She rated plaintiff at 50 on the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) Scale ...


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