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Griffith v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

November 28, 2017

DEAN C. GRIFFITH, Plaintiff,

          SARA LIOI, JUDGE.


          Thomas M. Parker, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, Dean Griffith, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). This matter is before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), 42 U.S.C. §1383(c)(3) and Local Rule 72.2(b).

         Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision and Griffith has failed to identify any error of law in the ALJ's evaluation of his claim, I recommend that the final decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         II. Procedural History

         On April 4, 2014, Griffith filed concurrent applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) alleging disability beginning on August 1, 2013. (Tr. 162-168) The claim was denied initially on May 19, 2014 (Tr. 98-104) and on reconsideration on September 24, 2014. (Tr. 106-112) Griffith requested a hearing on October 24, 2014. (Tr. 113-114)

         Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jonathan Eliot heard the case on December 2, 2015. (Tr. 33-75) On January 5, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Griffith not disabled. (Tr. 15-28) The Appeals Council denied Griffith's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4) Griffith instituted this action on November 30, 2016 seeking judicial review of that decision. (ECF Doc. 1)

         III. Evidence

         A. Personal, Educational and Vocational Evidence

         Griffith was born on January 30, 1962. (Tr. 130) He was living in a townhouse with his partner and his dogs. (Tr. 38. 59) Griffith completed high school (Tr. 41) and has prior work experience in loss prevention and as a photo lab assistant. (Tr. 82)

         B. Medical Evidence

         Griffith has been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. He first sought counseling from the Nord Center on October 3, 2013. (Tr. 226-236) Griffith met with social workers William Chapman and Melissa Wheeler for a mental diagnostic assessment. He reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, anger and auditory hallucinations. He was having thoughts of suicide once or twice a week. His depression made him want to stay in bed and he would sometimes sleep 17-18 hours straight. He sometimes forgot what he was talking about in the middle of conversations. Griffith was well-groomed; he had an average demeanor and eye contact, clear speech and logical thought process. He was not having delusions. He had no history of suicide attempts or violence toward others, and no current suicidal or homicidal ideation. Griffith's affect was mildly constricted; his behavior was cooperative; he had average intelligence and good insight and judgment. (Tr. 233) The diagnosis was major depressive disorder recurrent with psychotic features; and “rule out” diagnosis of bipolar I disorder, most recent episode depressed. (Tr. 234)

         Griffith met with John Vesel, PCC on October 23, 2013. He reported periods of depression and mania and hearing voices at night. (Tr. 269) Griffith reported increased depression to Mr. Vesel on November 5, 2013. (Tr. 267) He told Mr. Vesel that his parents had kicked him out of their house when he was 18 years old due to his sexuality. Despite his difficult history them, Griffith wanted to reconnect with his family. (Tr. 267)

         Griffith met with Margaret Messerly, M.D., on November 12, 2013 at the Nord Center. (Tr. 271-276) Dr. Messerly diagnosed bipolar disorder, most recent episode depressed, with psychotic features, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Tr. 273) Griffith started a trial of Seroquel and continued his counseling. (Tr. 271)

         On November 14, 2013, Griffith told Mr. Vesel that he was starting to feel better. He was sleeping a lot. He tended to interpret others viewing him negatively, but had been “fine” at a comic book convention. (Tr. 265) On December 4, 2013, Griffith's depression was low and his anxiety was not bad. (Tr. 263)

         Griffith followed up with Dr. Messerly on December 18, 2013. He reported that Seroquel was too sedating and did not stabilize his mood. He reported a slight decrease in intensity of voices while taking medication. Dr. Messerly stopped Seroquel and started a trial of Abilify. (Tr. 261)

         On January 16, 2014, Griffith reported “doing well.” His mood had been okay with less severe ups and downs. He was still irritable with others. (Tr. 257) He met with Dr. Messerly on January 17, 2014. He was tolerating Abilify very well. His moods were more stable and he was sleeping consistently with less need for sleep in the day. The voices were significantly reduced. He was being more active and had lost three pounds. He was planning to begin looking for work. (Tr. 255)

         Griffith met with Mr. Vesel on February 6, 2014 and March 6, 2014. (Tr. 251, 253) In March, he complained of depression and anxiety. (Tr. 251) Dr. Messerly also noted an increase in depressive symptoms in March 2014. (Tr. 249) Griffith reported that the initial benefits of Abilify seemed to have waned. Dr. Messerly increased Abilify. Griffith also reported an increase in suicidal ideation. He was stressed by financial concerns, jury duty, and the decision to apply for disability. (Tr. 249) Dr. Messerly prepared a short letter stating that Griffith was unable to serve as a juror due to his symptoms of mental illness. (Tr. 224)

         In June 2014, Griffith reported improvement in his mood with Abilify. He was still having residual depression but his auditory hallucinations were much better. On June 25, 2014, Griffith reported that he was applying for work. Dr. Vesel explained why he was unwilling to complete disability forms from Griffith's lawyer. Griffith reported that he did not feel that he was improving. He said he was putting “on a good face” at sessions. (Tr. 298)

         In August 2014, Griffith reported to Mr. Vesel that he had been mean to his dogs and his partner. He had also been calling women names when shopping. He had thrown a plate while cooking. (Tr. 296) Despite these examples of losing his temper, he was working on calming himself when he was angry. (Tr. 294)

         In September 2014, Griffith reported a decrease in mood swings over the course of his treatment. He was having increased worries over finances but reported no current thoughts of suicide and he was not hearing voices. (Tr. 343)

         Griffith continued to meet with Mr. Vesel in November and December 2014. (Tr. 355, 357, 359) He reported sleeping more and feeling depressed but he was not having angry outbursts. In December he reported enjoying Christmas activities - having a tree and Christmas cookies. He was enjoying his dogs. (Tr. 355) In January 2015, Griffith was sleeping well with less mood extremes. (Tr. 341) On February 26, 2015, Griffith's mood continued to improve. However, on March 26, 2015, Griffith's mood had declined due to his partner's house guest. (Tr. 414, 416)

         Griffith met with Dr. Messerly in July 2015, having not seen her since January. He had limited access to transportation and never called for medications. He reported a depressed mood, irritability and low energy. He had been avoiding leaving the home or even walking the dog. His partner's house guest had stayed with them for four months. (Tr. 403) Griffith also attended counseling sessions with Mr. Vesel in July and August 2015. He reported bad depression and isolation. (Tr. 410, 412) On September 8, 2015, Griffith continued to complain to Dr. Messerly of worsening depression over the last couple of months. Griffith denied suicidal ideation and manic episodes. (Tr. 401)

         On September 15, 2015, Griffith reported some improvement in mood and daily activities. He had been doing digital coloring and other things on his computer and was spending time with his dogs. (Tr. 407-408)

         On October 22, 2015, Griffith met with Dr. Messerly and Mr. Vesel. Griffith reported an increase in isolation and anxiety. He indicated he had financial worries because his partner was in the hospital. (Tr. 399, 405)

         C. Opinion Evidence

         1. Reviewing Psychologist - Karla Voyten, Ph.D. - May 2014

         On May 16, 2014, reviewing state agency psychologist, Karla Voyten, opined that Griffith did not meet or equal any listings and that he was capable of performing work involving only superficial social interactions. She felt that Griffith could adapt to relatively static settings with few changes. (Tr. 79-82)

         2. Reviewing Psychologist - Dr. Irma Johnston - September 24, 2014

         On reconsideration, reviewing state psychologist, Irma Johnston, Psy.D., reviewed Griffith's file on September 24, 2014 and affirmed most of the findings of Dr. Voyten. (Tr. 88-93) Dr. Johnston found that Griffith's ability to interact with the general public was markedly limited. (Tr. 93)

         D. Testimonial Evidence

         1.Griffith's Testimony

         Griffith testified to the following summarized points at the administrative hearing:

• He was born on January 30, 1962. He lived with his disabled partner in a townhouse. (Tr. 38)
• Griffith claimed his disability began on August 1, 2013. (Tr. 41)
• He is 5'7 ½” and weighed 315 pounds. (Tr. 39)
• He does not have a driver's license. (Tr. 39) His next-door neighbor drove him to places such as the grocery store and Medicaid and provided rides to his doctors' appointments. He got a ride to the ALJ hearing from “provider ride.” (Tr. 40)
• Griffith only left his house once or twice a month. (Tr. 40)
• Griffith's last job was at Marc's. Before that he worked at Best Buy in loss prevention or security. (Tr. 42-43) Toward the end of his job at Best Buy, Griffith was confrontational with ...

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