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Hall v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

August 26, 2013



KATHLEEN B. BURKE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Veronica Hall ("Plaintiff" or "Hall") seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for social security disability benefits. Doc. 1. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). This case is before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of the parties. Doc. 12.

As set forth below, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to reflect, in his Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") determination and hypothetical question to the Vocational Expert ("VE"), limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace that the ALJ himself found Hall to have. See Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504 (6th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Procedural History

Hall filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on or about May 22, 2008.[2] Tr. 55-58, 139-43, 144-50. Hall alleged disability beginning on April 1, 2006. Tr. 139, 144. She claimed disability based on arthritis, back pain, left hand problems, right elbow problems, and alcohol and drug addiction. Tr. 65, 68, 75, 78, 158. After initial denial by the state agency (Tr. 65-67, 68-71), and denial upon reconsideration (Tr. 75-77, 78-80), Hall requested a hearing (Tr. 81-83). On August 18, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Paul Johnson ("ALJ") conducted an administrative hearing. Tr. 24-52.

In a September 24, 2010, decision (Tr. 7-23), the ALJ determined that Hall had not been under a disability from April 1, 2006, through the date of the decision. Tr. 19. Hall requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. Tr. 6. On June 2, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Hall's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-5.

II. Evidence

A. Personal and Vocational Evidence

Hall was born on November 26, 1962, and was 47 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 28, 139, 144. She completed the ninth grade and started but did not finish the tenth grade. Tr. 31. At the time of the hearing, Hall lived alone in an apartment (Tr. 30) and she had not worked since about the end of 2005 (Tr. 31-32). Her past work included running a home daycare for about five years. Tr. 32. As a home daycare provider, Hall provided various services for children under her care, including meal preparation and educational training.[3] Tr. 32. Prior to running a home daycare, Hall worked for approximately seven years as a State Tested Nursing Assistant ("STNA") in a nursing home. Tr. 32-33. As an STNA, Hall helped elderly patients with their daily living activities, which in some instances required a lot of lifting. Tr. 33.

B. Medical opinion evidence

1. Treating physician's opinion

On March 1, 2010, Dr. Angel A. Brown, D.O., provided a report regarding Plaintiff's medical condition. Tr. 417-18. In the report, Dr. Brown indicated that Hall had the following diagnoses: empty sella, [4] NPH (normal pressure hydrocephalus)[5]; anemia; a history of depression; and chronic low back pain. Tr. 417. Dr. Brown indicated that her prognosis was "fair" and noted that she was "medication dependent."[6] Tr. 417. He noted some physical and mental limitations or restrictions.[7] Tr. 417. He recommended that Hall seek pain management treatment and find a regular endocrinologist. Tr. 417.

In the "work activity recommendations" portion of Dr. Brown's opinion, he opined that Hall's prognosis was fair; she could be released to work part-time for four to six hours per day; she was capable of light work, meaning occasional standing, walking, bending and lifting up to 20 pounds; she could stand less than one hour in an eight-hour workday; she could sit less than four hours in an eight-hour workday; she could lift occasionally; and she would require slow pace work, frequent breaks and good communication regarding activities/duties to be performed. Tr. 418.

2. State agency psychological opinions

a. State agency psychological reviewing physician's opinion

On July 24, 2008, state agency reviewing physician Dr. Frank Orosz, Ph.D., completed a Mental RFC Assessment (Tr. 301-04) and a Psychiatric Review Technique (Tr. 287-300).

In the Psychiatric Review Technique, Dr. Orosz rated Hall's functional limitations under the "B" criteria of the Listings as follows: no limitations in her activities of daily living; mild limitations in her ability to maintain concentration, persistence or pace; moderate limitations in her ability to maintain social functioning; and no episodes of decompensation. Tr. 297.

The Mental RFC contains three sections: (1) Section I - Summary Conclusions; (2) Section II - Remarks;[8] and (3) Section III - Functional Capacity Assessment. Tr. 301-03. In the "Summary Conclusions" section, Dr. Orosz rated Hall in 20 categories. Tr. 301-02. Dr. Orosz rated Hall as "not significantly" limited in 14 of the 20 rated categories. Tr. 301-02. He rated Hall as "moderately" limited in the other 6 categories, including: (1) ability to understand and remember detailed instructions; (2) ability to carry out detailed instructions; (3) ability to maintain concentration for extended period; (4) ability to 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; (5) ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and (6) ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Tr. 301-02. In the "Functional Capacity Assessment" section, Dr. Orosz opined that "[b]ased on the evidence in the file, it appears that the claimant is capable of performing simple one and two step tasks where close interaction with coworkers is not required." Tr. 303.

b. State agency psychological consultative examining physician's opinion

On July 8, 2008, Dr. Sally Felker, Ph.D., conducted a psychological examination. Tr. 283-86. Hall reported that the pain in her back, knees, right arm, and ankles is severe. Tr. 283. She reported that the most severe pain was in her left ankle. Tr. 283. During the day she reads the bible, says prayers, might attend an AA meeting or Bible Study, goes shopping at nearby stores, does household chores, and spends time with her grandchildren and daughter. Tr. 285.

Dr. Felker diagnosed Hall with "a primary diagnosis of Chronic Pain Disorder associated with psych factors and a medical condition." Tr. 285, 286. Dr. Felker also diagnosed Hall with "Mixed Substance Abuse."[9] Tr. 285, 286. Dr. Felker opined that Hall had no impairment in her ability to understand and follow one and two-step instructions. Tr. 285. Dr. Felker opined that Hall's ability to concentrate, particularly on sustained tasks, and her ability to relate to others and deal with the general public were mildly impaired. Tr. 285. Dr. Felker opined that Hall's ability to relate to work peers and supervisors, and to tolerate the stressors of employment were moderately impaired. Tr. 285. Dr. Felker assessed Hall with a GAF of 56 for symptom severity and a functional GAF of 58 to 59.[10] Tr. 286.

C. Testimonial ...

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