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Reynolds v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 23, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


GREG WHITE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Charles Reynolds ("Reynolds") challenges the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, Carolyn W. Colvin[1] ("Commissioner"), denying his claim for a Period of Disability ("POD"), Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title(s) II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1381 et seq. This matter is before the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and the consent of the parties entered under the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(2).

For the reasons set forth below, the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

I. Procedural History

On May 26, 2009, Reynolds filed an application for a POD and DIB, and on January 20, 2011, he filed an application for SSI. (Tr. 15, 126.) He alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2004 and claimed he was disabled due to deafness in both ears and alcoholism. (Tr. 159.) His applications were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Reynolds timely requested an administrative hearing.

On March 2, 2011, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing[2] during which Reynolds, represented by counsel, and an impartial vocational expert ("VE") testified. (Tr. 31-62.) On March 16, 2011, the ALJ found Reynolds was able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy and, therefore, was not disabled. (Tr. 15-25.) The ALJ's decision became final when the Appeals Council denied further review. (Tr. 1-4.)

II. Evidence

Personal and Vocational Evidence

Age fifty-three (53) at the time of his administrative hearing, Reynolds is a "person closely approaching advanced age" under social security regulations.[3] See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d)/416.963(d). He has a high school education and six months of vocational education in diesel mechanics. (Tr. 39.) He has past relevant work as a polisher and quality control technician. (Tr. 54-55.)

Medical Evidence

The medical evidence regarding Reynolds's substance abuse and mental impairments is as follows.[4] In June 4, 2003, Reynolds was admitted to Lake Geauga Center for in-patient alcohol dependence treatment. (Tr. 537.) He successfully completed treatment several months later and was described upon discharge as having "no mental health issues, or mental health interventions." (Tr. 537.) In August 2005, Reynolds was treated at the emergency room ("ER") for alcohol abuse and depression. (Tr. 515.) In November 2005, Reynolds underwent a mental health/substance abuse screening while incarcerated.[5] (Tr. 591.) Therein, he was described as having feelings of "hopelessness/depression" and a history of alcohol and drug problems. (Tr. 591.)

Five years later, Reynolds sought treatment at Signature Health for depression and addiction. (Tr. 828.) On November 24, 2010, Rachel Fabian, LSW, conducted an initial assessment, in which she noted that Reynolds "has been experiencing depression since 2005 but has never received mental health services." (Tr. 828.) Reynolds reported that he became homeless in 2005 due to his drug use and unemployment, and indicated a history of suicidal ideations. (Tr. 828.) He also reported an "extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse, " including abuse of alcohol, heroin, Vicodin and Percocet. (Tr. 829.) He was diagnosed with depressive disorder, NOS and assessed a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 55.[6] (Tr. 828.) Ms. Fabian referred Reynolds to Denise Flynn, MSN CSN, [7] for a psychiatric evaluation. (Tr. 847.)

Ms. Flynn conducted her initial evaluation of Reynolds on November 24, 2010. (Tr. 847-848.) She noted that he "presents with euthymic mood with complaints of anxiety and depression." (Tr. 848.) She assessed his concentration and focus as "normal" and his intelligence as "average." (Tr. 848.) Ms. Flynn diagnosed Reynolds with depression NOS, opioid dependence, and assessed a GAF of 55. (Tr. 848.) She prescribed a trial of Oleptro to treat his anxiety, depression, and sleeping problems. (Tr. 848.) The following month, Reynolds presented to Ms. Flynn with complaints that the Oleptro caused excessive drowsiness. (Tr. 849.) Ms. Flynn changed his medication to Seroquel. (Tr. 849.)

On January 26, 2011, Ms. Flynn completed a Mental RFC Questionnaire. (Tr. 850-854.) Therein, Mrs. Flynn opined that Reynolds had an "unlimited or very good" ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being unduly distracted; maintain socially appropriate behavior; adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness; travel in unfamiliar places; and, use public transportation. (Tr. 852-853.) She further opined that Reynolds had a "limited but satisfactory" ability to remember work-like procedures; understand, remember, and carry out very short and simple instructions; maintain attention for a two hour segment; maintain attendance and punctuality; sustain an ordinary routine; make simple work-related decisions; complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; ask simple questions or request assistance; respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting; be aware of normal work hazards and take appropriate precautions; set realistic goals; deal with the stress of semiskilled and skilled work; and, interact appropriately with the general public.[8] (Tr. 852-853.)

Ms. Flynn also opined that Reynolds was "seriously limited, but not precluded" in his abilities to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; get along with co-workers or peers; and, deal with normal work stress. (Tr. 852.) In addition, she concluded that Reynolds would be likely to miss four or more work days per month due to his impairments or treatment. (Tr. 854.) Finally, she opined Reynolds' alcohol/substance abuse issues contributed to all of his mood and anxiety symptoms, and she was "uncertain" of what his limitations would be if Reynolds "were totally abstinent from alcohol or substance abuse." (Tr. 854.)

Hearing Testimony

At the March 2, 2011 hearing, Reynolds testified to the following:

• He graduated from high school and completed six months of vocational training in diesel mechanics. (Tr. 39.)
• Between 1993 and 2005, he worked in steel mills and a musical instrument factory. Thereafter, he had two short-term temporary jobs, as a punch press operator and stainless steel polisher. (Tr. 40-43.)
• He was homeless for several years, beginning in 2004. (Tr. 43.) He now lives in a trailer with his fiance. (Tr. 39.)
• He has had back problems for over 25 years. (Tr. 44.) In the last ten years, the pain has become "unbearable." (Tr. 44, 50.) He experiences pinched nerve attacks three to four times per month, which "shuts him down" for two to three days. (Tr. 44-45.) He fractured his wrist and ankle years ago and, because he was homeless and had no health insurance, they were not properly set in a cast. (Tr. 46.) As a result, he experiences arthritis. (Tr. 46.)
• He cannot stand for any sustained length of time during an eight hour day because "I have to get up and down every hour" due to the pain. (Tr. 45.) He cannot sit for more than four hours total and, moreover, has to get up every hour ...

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