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Fletcher v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 9, 2019

PAUL ELTON FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [*] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          KATHRYN H. VRATIL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Paul Elton Fletcher appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny disability and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. For reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings consistent with this order.

         Procedural Background

         On May 28, 2014, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. He alleged disability beginning on September 10, 2010. Transcript Of Administrative Record (“Tr.”), attached to Answer (Doc. #8) filed June 1, 2018 at 26. Initially and upon reconsideration, the agency denied plaintiff's application. At plaintiff's request, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on December 8, 2016. Tr. 26. On February 9, 2017, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the SSA. On March 3, 2017, plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council and submitted as new evidence the medical source statement of Elizabeth Garton, PMHNP, medical evidence from Devendra K. Jain, M.D., and an appeal brief. Tr. 1-2, 205. The Appeals Council accepted and made part of the record only the appeal brief. On January 8, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ decision, which therefore stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Plaintiff appeals.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on September 7, 1982. He has a high school education and claims disability beginning on September 10, 2010, when he was 28 years old, because of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, right shoulder impingement, right carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, bipolar and anxiety. Plaintiff was previously employed as a truck driver. Before that, he was an auto mechanic and a construction worker.

         The ALJ held a hearing on December 8, 2016. In his order, dated February 9, 2017, the ALJ concluded as follows:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 10, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, right shoulder impingement, right carpal tunnel syndrome status post release, depression, and anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). * * *
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). * * *
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can frequently handle with the right upper extremity. He is limited to occasional exposure to vibrations and hazardous conditions. He is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions. * * *
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965). * * *
7. The claimant was born on September 7, 1982 and was 28 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)). * * *
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 10, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)). * * *

Tr. 28-40.

         On March 3, 2017, plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. Plaintiff included in his appeal a mental residual functional capacity assessment from Elizabeth Garton, PMNHP, who had treated plaintiff over a two-year period. Tr. 19-22. She opined that plaintiff suffered extreme impairment in his ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, be punctual within customary tolerances, complete a normal workday/workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number or length of rest periods. Tr. 21. She stated that plaintiff experienced marked impairment in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them, accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors and get along with coworkers and peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Tr. 20-21. Garton stated that plaintiff was moderately impaired in his ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, interact appropriately with the general public, respond appropriately to changes in work setting, travel in unfamiliar places or use public transportation and set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. She noted that plaintiff suffered from flashbacks and nightmares, which caused increased anxiety and anger episodes, and that he had bipolar disorder and cyclic moods, which interfered with his ability to interact with others in a normal, stable way. She did not believe that he could work full-time and sustain gainful employment. Tr. 21. She anticipated that plaintiff would miss work more than three times a month due to his impairments and that he had functioned at this level since approximately 2011. Tr. 22.

         On January 8, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for ...


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