Voegtle v. Commissioner of Social Security

Filing 23

ORDER. For the reasons stated in the attached Memorandum & Order, the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's application for social security benefits is AFFIRMED. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant. Signed by Judge David W. Dugan on 7/19/2021. (sth)

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Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 1 of 10 Page ID #1515 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS GARY K. V., JR., 1 Plaintiff, vs. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Case No. 3:20-cv-625-DWD MEMORANDUM & ORDER DUGAN, District Judge: In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423. Procedural History Plaintiff applied for DIB on January 1, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of May 8, 2014. After holding an evidentiary hearing, denied the application on December 16, 2016. The Appeals Council request for review on March 15, 2017. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court, seeking judicial review of the agency decision. After the parties filed a joint motion for remand, this Court remanded the case for further evaluation. Gary V., Jr. v. Berryhill, No. 17-cv510-JPG-CJP, Doc. 16 (S.D. Ill. Dec. 11, 2017). A second ALJ held an evidentiary hearing 1 in this Memorandum and Order due to privacy concerns. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2(c) and the Advisory Committee Notes thereto. Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 2 of 10 Page ID #1516 on July 10, 2018 and denied the application on July 25, 2018. The Appeals Council denied agency decision subject to judicial review. Plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint with this Court. Applicable Legal Standards To qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes. Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if he has an determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ considers the following five questions in order: (1) Is the claimant presently unemployed? (2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform his former occupation? and (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work? See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. An affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. The claimant bears the burden of an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show 2 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 3 of 10 Page ID #1517 national economy. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). It is important to recogn findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial 405(g). Accordingly, this Court is not tasked with determining whether or not Plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant time, but by substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). The Supreme Court defines su reasonable mind might accept as ad Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S. Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal citations omitted). record into consideration but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. Burmester v. Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019). However, while judicial review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. See Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein. The Decision of the ALJ The ALJ followed the five-step analytical framework described above. At step one, she determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability. He was 42 years old on the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe lumbago/degenerative disc disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression. 3 impairments: Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 4 of 10 Page ID #1518 At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have any impairments or combination of impairments that meet any of the listings. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had only a mild limitation in his ability to understand, remember, and apply information. (Tr. 778) She found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in his abilities to interact with others and adapt or manage himself. (Tr. 779) The ALJ also concluded that Plaintiff had only a moderate limitation in his ability to concentrate, persist, or maintain pace. Although Plaintiff, his wife, and his mother-in-law described significant limitations concluded that the evidence as a whole shows no more than a moderate limitation. (Tr. 779) The ALJ pointed specifically to the facts that idence consistently found his concentration and attention to be adequate. (Tr. 779) Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with these additional qualifications: [H]e cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can engage in occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. The claimant cannot work in He is limited to performing simple routine tasks but not in a fast paced environment such as an assembly line. He is limited to work that requires only occasional changes in the work setting and he can have occasional interaction with co-workers with no interaction with public. 4 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 5 of 10 Page ID #1519 that Plaintiff could not do his past relevant work as a food inspector, store laborer, oil changer, assistant manager, or material handler. (Tr. 790) However, at step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled because he was able to do other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national econom The Evidentiary Record Plaintiff lives in Granite City, Illinois, and is married with two children. (Tr. 809) the time of the hearing. (Tr. 821) He was injured while serving in the United States Army in October 2012. (Tr. 811) Since his injury, he has experienced pain in his back and left leg. (Tr. 811) Plaintiff also suffers from anxiety. (Tr. 815) He testified that he has problems concentrating. (Tr. 818) For instance, he changes the channel on the TV every 30 seconds. (Tr. 818) In 2014, a psychiatrist at the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medi examined Plaintiff and found that his concentration, immediate recall, memory for recent events, and insight and judgment were all good. (Tr. 356) In March 2015, another psychiatrist noted that Plaintiff had good concentration, although Plaintiff reported that ery two weeks. (Tr. checkups in 2015 and 2016, Plaintiff again appeared to have good concentration and normal attention on examination. (Tr. 473, 531, 538, 1253) In March 2015, a state agency non-examining psychologist, Dr. Howard Tin, 5 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 6 of 10 Page ID #1520 ate agency non-examining psychologist, Dr. Darrell Snyder, reached the same conclusion that Plaintiff has difficulty maintaining luded that the state agency psychological tled to great weight. (Tr. 789) In January 2017, a psychologist at the VA completed a disability benefits o]ccupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks, although generally functioning satisfactorily, with normal routine behavior, self-care and co to the questionnaire, Plaintiff difficulties with concentration. (Tr. 1186) He also report concentration during psychologist completing the (Tr. 1188) In February 2017, Plaintiff reported to a psychiatrist at the VA that his focus and concentration decrease almost daily around 4:00 p.m. (Tr. 1182) The psychiatrist prescribed a stimulant medication to help with his concentration problem. (Tr. 1182) In April 2017, Plaintiff reported that the stimulant significantly improved his ability to complete tasks. (Tr. 1178) His examination findings showed good concentration and 6 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 7 of 10 Page ID #1521 In November 2017, Harry Deppe, Ph.D., examined Plaintiff on referral. (Tr. 1325) On examination, Dr. Deppe foun culty staying on task and his responses to questions and comments were cohe concluded that Plaintiff had me weight. (Tr. 790) record and offered their opinions. Donald Henson, Ph.D., and M.W. DiFonso, Psy.D., t short, simple instructions and maintain concentration was not significantly limited. (Tr. 930, 946) They also indicated that Plaintiff has moderate limitations in his ability to (1) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances and (2) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods. (Tr. 930, 946) Analysis Plaintiff raises one argument in favor account for deficits of concentration, persiste tasks, not performed in a fast-paced environment such as an assembly line, and requiring only occasional changes in work setting, limited interactions with co-workers, and no interactions with the public. at these limitations do not 7 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 8 of 10 Page ID #1522 persistence, and pace. (Doc. 15 at 11) Because the hypotheticals posed by the ALJ to the describe his limitations. (Doc. 15 at 5) confining the claimant to simple, routine tasks and limited interactions with others adequately captures temperamental deficiencies and limitations in concentration, Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 814 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation y with workplace adaptation, rather than concentration, pace, or persistence. It is also a definition, it would have been impossible for the VE to assess whether a person with [Plainti Id. at 815. limitations, such as limiting a claimant to simple, repetitive tasks, may properly account for moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, so long as they 2019) (internal quotation marks Urbanek v. Saul omitted). For example, limitations in the RF 8 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 9 of 10 Page ID #1523 ncentration, persistence, and pace result from a panic disorder triggered by stressful environments. , 627 F.3d at 619 (quoting Johansen v. Barnhart limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace occur only when the claimant encounters a complex task. Bruno v. Saul despite failing to explicitly reference his moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. The ALJ found that the medical evidence does not support 787) While Plaintiff, his wife, and his mother-in-law all described Pl with concentration and his short attention span, his medical records provide adequate degree as evidence of his ability to accomplish tasks and goals. Further, the ALJ relied on the opinions of Dr. Tin and Dr. Snyder who opined that Plaintiff has difficulty concentrating for extended periods of time but can carry out short, simple instructions. The ALJ also gave some weight to the opinion of Dr. Deppe, who reviewed the medical records and found that Plaintiff had no difficulties staying on task on examination. Dr. Deppe concluded that Plaintiff is able to maintain the attention required to perform simple, repetitive tasks. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by not considering the opinions of Dr. 9 Case 3:20-cv-00625-DWD Document 23 Filed 07/19/21 Page 10 of 10 Page ID #1524 Any error the ALJ may have committed by not explicitly considering the opinions of Dr. Henson and Dr. DiFonso is harmless. Their opinions only confirm that restricting Plaintiff to short, simple tasks and instructions adequately accounts for his moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. consider state See McKinzey v. Astrue harmless error when the opinion would not change the result). Based on the medical evidence, the ALJ properly concluded that restricting moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. Conclusion After careful review of the record as a whole, the Court is convinced that the ALJ committed no errors of law, and that her findings are supported by substantial evidence. application for disability benefits is AFFIRMED. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of defendant. SO ORDERED. Dated: July 19, 2021 ______________________________ DAVID W. DUGAN United States District Judge 10

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