United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for Summary Judgment [D.E. 14, 15] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. [Tr. 13-22]. The Court, having reviewed the record and being otherwise sufficiently advised, will grant Plaintiff's motion and deny Defendant's motion.
I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter
The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis:
1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition.
2. An individual who is working but does not have a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities is not disabled.
3. If an individual is not working and has a severe impairment which "meets the duration requirement and is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of other factors.
4. If a decision cannot be reached based on current work activity and medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to do this previous work, then he is not disabled.
5. If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the past because of a severe impairment, then the Secretary considers his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to see if he can do other work. If he cannot, the claimant is disabled.
Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1982)). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that he is disabled." Id. "If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the Secretary." Id.
In the instant matter, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period under step one. [Tr. 15]. Under step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder were "severe" as defined by the agency's regulations. [Tr. 15]; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's back pain and torn tendon in his left shoulder were "non-severe" impairments. [Tr. 15].
During step three of the analysis, the ALJ considered all of Plaintiff's impairments and decided that none of them met the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. [Tr. 15-17]. After further review of the record, the ALJ concluded at step four that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. [Tr. 17]. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the following non-exertional limitations: Plaintiff can understand, remember, and carry out simple and detailed instructions; Plaintiff can only work in a low stress job with only occasional decision making required and only occasional changes in the work setting; Plaintiff can have no interaction with the public; and only occasionally interact with co-workers and supervisors. [Tr. 17].
The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. [Tr. 20-21]. However, there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [Tr. 21-22]. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. [Tr. 22].
II. Standard of Review
In reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may "not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching her conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Cutlip, 25 F.3d at 286 (citations omitted).
III. Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff was 52 years of age at the alleged disability onset date [Tr. 21] and has a high school education. [Tr. 32]. Plaintiff has past work experience as a union carpenter and automobile detailer. [Tr. 21]. Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on September 30, 2010. [Tr. 13]. The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 13]. Plaintiff requested a hearing with the ALJ, which took place July 19, 2012. [Tr. 13]. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying disability insurance benefits on August 28, 2012. [Tr. 22].
According to Plaintiff, he cannot be around people, he cannot ride or drive long distances, and cannot deal with situations. [Tr. 148]. Plaintiff claims that he also cannot be in certain buildings. [Tr. 152]. Plaintiff sometimes forgets to do things and his comprehension is not good. [Tr. 152]. When Plaintiff is depressed he tends to sleep [Tr. 151] and when he has anxiety attacks at his home, he retreats upstairs. [Tr. 153]. Plaintiff treats his impairments with Prozac, Abilify, Lamictal, Depakote, and Ativan, as well as monthly counseling sessions. [Tr. 349].
Plaintiff first visited Regional Psychotherapy Services, Inc. for treatment of his mental health impairments. [Tr. 223-37]. Plaintiff's treatment with Regional Psychotherapy took place before Plaintiff alleges he became disabled. On March 19, 2008, Plaintiff was diagnosed with major depression, and anxiety disorder. [Tr. 235]. Plaintiff was also assessed with extreme impairment in job performance and marked impairment in physical health and financial situation. [Tr. 235]. Plaintiff continued treatment with Regional Psychotherapy through December 2008, [Tr. 223], and appeared less anxious and less depressed when treatment stopped. [Tr. 223].
Plaintiff also treated with Dr. Sandeep Saroch at Unified Psychiatry. Plaintiff had his initial diagnostic interview on April 7, 2010. At this time, Plaintiff complained of depressed mood, weight loss, low energy, low concentration, anhedonia, increased sleep, psychomotor retardation, worthlessness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. [Tr. 267]. Plaintiff also complained of agoraphobia, panic attacks, and social phobia. [Tr. 268]. Dr. Saroch diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, depressed mood, and social phobia. [Tr. 270]. Dr. Saroch prescribed Plaintiff Prozac, Lamictal, [Tr. 262], Lunesta [Tr. 263], and Abilify. [Tr. 264]. Plaintiff continued his monthly counseling sessions with ...